Training trainers to teach interpreters remotely — Part 1

In this two-part blog entry, AIIC members reflect on the AIIC Training of Trainers Seminar on online interpreter training, in Rome on 31 Jan — 3 Feb 2020

Training interpreters online seems to be an unstoppable trend in the digital age. Recent global developments have accelerated the demand for online delivery of all types of services – including training.

Thrilled at the news that AIIC is organising the first Training of Trainers (ToT) seminar on online training in January 2020, I applied for, and was awarded, one of AIIC’s trainers’ sponsorships. And so I flew to Rome to join interpreter trainers from around the globe in a two-day AIIC Training and Professional Development (ATPD) seminar led by Sophie Llewellyn Smith, an experienced trainer and—most importantly—a trailblazer for online interpreter coaching. 

Learning about remote learning… in a physical classroom 

A novice trainer myself, I must confess that doubts began to creep into my mind about the effectiveness of teaching online when I had to redesign a face-to-face consecutive interpreting course to fit a virtual classroom setting. That is exactly why the seminar was intriguing: I had the pleasure to experience everything in action with colleagues, though it may sound odd to first-timers that we were gathered in a physical classroom to learn how to teach remotely.

The participants came from almost every continent from Europe to South America. As for the diversity of backgrounds, there were both veteran trainers keen to explore the possibility of teaching online and the younger ones who venture into virtual classrooms from the beginning of their teaching career. The seminar covered hands-on practice in virtual classroom settings, comparison of learning management systems (LMS), and lots of lively debates. 

Practice drills – simulating the remote environment

Day 1 started without fuss. No lengthy introductory remarks, no brainstorming future scenarios – within an hour we were starting our practice drills. To simulate a remote learning environment, a few of us playing the role of students went to a separate room and joined a coaching session led by “trainers” in the main room. We had a short session with consecutive interpreting practice and trainer’s feedback. Although the students were not joining the session from the other side of the earth, trainers had to make an effort to get used to distance teaching: sound checks, camera positions, and readiness to respond to technical glitches from acoustic feedback to poor connection. 

It is intuitively true that we can start an online session with common video-conferencing software applications and digital gadgets at hand, but, as many participants agree, we should set ground rules on technical requirements and an effective learning environment. A small mobile screen will probably not allow a student to see both the trainer and consecutive notes being demonstrated while doing an online coaching session in a coffee shop might distract both the trainee and the peers. 

 Group discussions

The refill revolution
Another plastic-free AIIC event

Numerous ideas were sparked during the ensuing group discussions. We first looked into the differences between teaching consecutive and simultaneous interpretation online. The general view was that the latter would be more challenging for both the trainer and the students. If the latency during video calls is high, it is arguably impossible to monitor students’ performance and give fair comments on their décalage. To retrieve clear audio files, technology-savvy colleagues employed software that features dual-track recording (such as Audacity).

Teaching interpreting remotely is not all about online practice. As learners’ attention spans tend to be shorter in virtual classrooms, we tried to spread the workload between synchronous study and asynchronous study. To make the most of LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, etc), trainers could focus on giving feedback and addressing questions when they “meet” students in short online tutorial sessions while keeping the discussion going on LMS, which is often used as a repository of reference materials and speeches for practice. 

Coronavirus – a new urgency for remote options

As I write this article, meetings and events around the world are being hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, and interpreters are undoubtedly feeling the pinch. As an alternative option, virtual meetings have surged and will probably remain a substantial part of global business even after the epidemic. Likewise, thanks to technology, schools have been able to quickly resume teaching online since campuses were closed.

The Rome Training of Trainers seminar came at the right time for interpreter trainers at the cusp of a new era. In fact, some participants are already trying out the platforms, software, and pedagogical approaches in their recent teaching practice. Their experience will certainly give rise to new models for training future interpreters. 

Special thanks go to our trainer Sophie Llewellyn Smith, and to Stefano Marrone of AIIC Italy for their efforts in organising this fabulous seminar.

Leo Hailong LIU is a Hong Kong-based AIIC interpreter and interpreter trainer.

All third-party products and services mentioned are for readers' information only, and their mention does not signal endorsement by AIIC or its members.

Recommended citation format:
Leo Hailong LIU. "Training trainers to teach interpreters remotely — Part 1". April 27, 2020. Accessed July 11, 2020. <>.

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