Posts in interpreting

Directionality research in translation and interpreting studies: A shorter than short history (1/2)

agosto 26th, 2013 Posted by blog, directionality, interpreting, inverse translation, methods, mother tongue, native speaker, translation No Comment yet


Most generally speaking, directionality research is concerned with the direction from and into which a translation or interpretation is carried out, and related concepts. In a way, the translation or interpreting direction is present in any translation or interpreting research, since a translation or an interpretation can always be construed to have been done from a specific written, spoken or signed language into another. Building on an old debate in the profession and anecdotal comments on the issue, which go back at least as far as Pliny the Younger, who in 85 CE advocated translating from Ancient Greek into Latin and vice versa (Robinson 2002), a specific field of translation and interpreting studies (TIS) has developed to investigate directionality.

Directionality-related questions that have been or could be addressed by translation and interpreting researchers include: What are the roots of concepts central to directionality and so-called inverse translation such as ‘(non-)native’ speaker or signer, ‘(non-)mother tongue’ or ‘foreign’ language? How similar/dissimilar are attitudes and norms towards translation or interpreting direction in the various ‘translation cultures’ (Prunč 1997, 2012; Schippel 2008, Grbić et al. 2010)? How homogeneous are the groups of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers or signers? How do ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speakers or signers feel about being explicitly or implicitly classified as such? With regard to directionality effects, how similar/dissimilar are specific language pairs and genres/text types? What is the performance of a translator or interpreter out of his/her ‘mother tongue’ as opposed to into his/her ‘mother tongue’? What are the effects when multiple collaborators with different ‘mother tongues’ (such as translators, revisors or validators) are involved in the translation process? How does translation or interpreting direction affect reception? How useful is it to use directionality as an organizing principle of translation/interpreting courses or entire study programs? How much is the ‘nativeness’ factor stressed in job advertisements, how relevant is it to actual hiring practices, and what reasons are given for that?
Now let me give you a brief overview of the research that has been published on translation and interpreting directionality over the years, and provide you with some context. At first, a few scattered, pioneering studies appeared, whose focus was mostly directionality in translation (e.g., McAlester 1992, 2000; Beeby Lonsdale 1996, Marmaridou 1996, Campbell 1998, Stewart 1999, 2000a+b, 2008; Kocijančič Pokorn 2000a+b, Lorenzo 2002, 2003). These studies were followed by a growing number of publications dealing with directionality in interpreting (e.g., Tommola/Helevä 1998, Al-Salman/Al-Khanji 2002, Lim 2005, Monti et al. 2005, Bartłomiejczyk 2006, Chang/Schallert 2007, Bendazzoli 2010, Opdenhoff 2011). In the noughties, when directionality research seems to have enjoyed its heyday in TIS, directionality-dedicated conference proceedings and a thematic special issue were published (Grosman et al. 2000, Kelly et al. 2003, Godijns/Hinderdael 2005). A fair number of works produced during that period approached directionality from an emancipatory perspective, which is attested to by titles such as Challenging the Traditional Axioms: Translation Into a Non-Mother Tongue (Pokorn 2005) or Into Forbidden Territory: The Audacity to Translate into a Second Language (Feltrin-Morris 2008).

Most recent contributions to directionality research have been made in translation process research (e.g., Hirci 2007, Alves et al. 2009, Pavlović/Jensen 2009, Maier 2011, Chang 2011, Wimmer 2011, Ferreira Alves 2010, 2012; Rodríguez/Schnell 2012, Ferreira 2014, Barbosa de Lima Fonseca 2015, Hunziker Heeb 2016, Ferreira/Schwieter 2017). Because of the nature and research designs of process studies in TIS, this does not come as a surprise. In the often quantitative studies typical of this TIS research tradition, directionality or related concepts may appear as explicitly spelled-out, highly visible dependent, independent or control variables (Krings 2005 mentions translation direction as one of his “task factors”).

Directionality has now been established as an important issue in TIS, and received its own entry in major reference works (Shuttleworth/Cowie 1997, Delisle et al. 1999, Beeby 2009, Palumbo 2009, Pokorn 2011, Bartłomiejczyk 2015).

TIS researchers will keep exploring the topic of directionality, also from new angles; directionality has recently become an issue in (improving) statistical machine translation and sign language interpreting (van Dijk et al. 2011, Wang/Napier 2013, Nicodemus/Emmorey 2013, 2015; Wang/Napier 2015, Wang 2016) and third language interpreting (Crasborn/van Dijken 2009, Topolovec 2012), for example. Recent conference (conference 1, conference 2), meeting (meeting 1, meeting 2) and workshop contributions, including the occasional keynote, a special journal section, a special issue on English as a lingua franca and translator/interpreter education including reflections on directionality, observations on directionality in so-called non-Western ‘translation cultures’, a survey reporting on the perception and role of translation direction in the Spanish technical translation market, and ongoing (post-)doctoral research projects are signs that the patient is alive and kicking.

In the rest of the post I would like to turn to conceptual and methodological issues. Taking a cue from other disciplines that have language(s) and communication as their object of study (e.g., Paikeday 1985, Piller 2001, 2002; Davies 2003, 2013; Bonfiglio 2013, Hulstijn 2015), we might want to be more careful when defining and operationalizing key concepts in directionality research. For instance, the criteria for assigning study participants to the ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ group are not always transparent. The linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas mentions origin, function, competence and/or identification as criteria we could rely on to determine a person’s mother tongue(s). To avoid threats to our studies’ credibility, we should thus perhaps be more cautious about ‘I know one when I see one’.

In the second and final part of this two-part blog post, I am going to talk about methodology in directionality research and will suggest methodological improvements (such as blinding) to avoid biased results.

  • Feltrin-Morris, Marella. 2008. Into forbidden territory. The audacity to translate into a second language. PhD thesis, Binghamton University/SUNY.


by Matthias Apfelthaler

Investigating Expertise in Interpreting

abril 12th, 2012 Posted by bibliographical data, blog, expertise, interpreting, PhD project, The expert's perspective No Comment yet

I ended my last blog post on the expertise approach by saying that using the expertise approach to study interpreting will require some more development of the different constructs. I was talking about how to operationalize Ericsson’s and Smith’s three step general method for investigating expert performance. The first step says that the researcher should start with “a detailed analysis of the investigated domain and the skills necessary for experts in that domain and a systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill”.

As far as I know, there is no exhaustive analysis of the skills necessary for experts in the domain of interpreting, but there are several proposals of lists or typologies. And all of us involved in interpreting can come up with longer or shorter lists. In fact just think about the description of what you need to start interpreting school:

  • – Perfect command in most domains of your mother tongue and at least perfect understanding of the foreign languages you work from.
  • – Ability to adapt quickly from one situation to the other.
  • – Ability to grasp quickly, conclude and anticipate next step.
  • – Ability to quickly formulate in another language what you have just heard in one language.
  • – Ability to listen and speak simultaneously (at least if you work with simultaneous interpreting).

This is by no means an exhaustive list it just gives an idea of what we have to deal with, when analyzing the skills necessary for experts. Another tricky thing is that a person can very well master these skills without having the ability to interpret, let alone become an expert interpreter. I know many people who have perfect native levels in two languages who are not interpreters, but neither would or could interpret. Maybe you do too.

Expert research is a fairly active field in interpreting and translation, but I only think we have begun to map the cognitive processes for the specific skill. One hypothesis is that experts’ working memory would be better developed than other performers. This has been investigated by for instance Minhua Liu. Liu found that experienced interpreters had a more efficient allocation of working memory than less experienced interpreters, by the way, you can find a very interesting talk that Dr. Liu gave at the Monterey Institute of International Studies here.

Anticipation is also a field presumably of importance of interpreters. A volume by Chernov (edited by Setton and Hild) is dedicted to anticipation and Bartlomiejczyk recently returned to the understanding of anticipation.

Another interesting way to investigate expertise is to look at how experienced interpreters (and possibly experts) deal with situations compared to less experienced interpreters or novices. Then we have already jumped to step two of Ericsson’s list, namely, “detailed analysis of the performance within the frames of general cognitive theory; identification of the systematic process and their link to the structure of the task and the behaviour of the performers”.

As I’m impatient by nature, I did what other’s have done before me – I jumped to step two. I have looked at what experienced interpreters do when they encounter problems compared to novice interpreters. I am by no means the first one to do this either. I have very much followed the work of Adelina Hild who developed a classification of which processing problems interpreters experienced and how they dealt with them (i.e. which strategies they used to deal with the problems occurred). For example, let’s say that an interpreter did not hear a particular word. What happens? Does s/he omit that word or even the whole sentence? Or does s/he invent something else? Or does s/he infer from the context what was lost?

It may come as no surprise that both for me and for Hild, experienced interpreters encounter fewer problems and have more strategies at hand to deal with them. In the example above, the experienced interpreter would most likely be able to infer from the context the word that was not heard, whereas the novice would most likely omit at least the word maybe the sentence.

By looking at what really experienced interpreters do and don’t compared to less experienced interpreters we may approach those necessary skills for our domain. For instance, the experienced interpreters I looked at encountered processing problems much less than the novices. Considering that they were very experienced it’s not surprising, but what’s interesting is that when they encountered a problem they had more strategies to choose from. Novice interpreters often choose to omit parts of the message, and when they did not omit they accepted a lower standard of the utterance or quite simply invented something. Experienced interpreters preferred to generalize in difficult situations, they could also choose to summarize or restructure the utterance. They did of course omit or accept a lower standard as well, but much less so than the novices. So, it looks like one skill interpreting experts have is mastery of a wide range of interpreting strategies in order to convey the message.

My space is once again up, but I’ll continue to pursue the expertise approach in my next post. And let’s see then if we can look at the third point in the list: “presentation of the superior performance through the used cognitive processes and how they were acquired and the structure of the relevant domain knowledge”.

Authors referred to:

Chernov, Gelij V. 2004. Inference and anticipation in simultaneous interpreting: a probability-prediction model. Amsterdam and Philadelphia. John Benjamins.

Bartlomiejczyk, Magdalena. 2008. “Anticipation: a controversial interpreting strategy”, In B. Lewandowska-Toamsczyk and Thelen, M. (eds.) Translation and Meaning 8.Maastricht: Zuyd University

Ericsson, K.A. 2000. “Expertise in Interpreting: An Expert-performance Perspective”.Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting. 5:2.187–220.

Ivanova (Hild), A. 1999. Discourse Processing During Simultaneous Interpreting: An Expertise Approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge.

Liu, M. 2001. Expertise in Simultaneous Interpreting: A Working Memory Analysis. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Texas at Austin.


by Elisabet Tiselius

Excellence in Interpreting

octubre 7th, 2011 Posted by bibliographical data, blog, expertise, interpreting, PhD project, The expert's perspective No Comment yet

Fresh out of interpreting school, I was lucky to start working with very experienced colleagues. Although I considered myself lucky working with them it was also a daunting experience in many respects. Naturally, I was filled with respects for these linguistic wizards with all their experience and flair. Most of them were also amazingly skilled in interpreting. I spent months, maybe even years listening, taking notes and trying to copy them. I think that I was also intimidated by the old interpreter teacher saying that “it takes at least five years to become a full-fledged interpreter”.

Years later I was struggling to start a career in research. As I was outlining my project, I came back to my early interpreting experiences and felt that I wanted to explore what made those interpreters so skillful. At this point my supervisor pointed me in the direction of the expertise approach. The expertise approach came from psychology became popular in interpreting studies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Barbara Moser-Mercer invited expertise guru, Karl Anders Ericsson to the Ascona workshops. Unfortunately, this was before my time and my understanding of expertise comes from the readings I have done in the subject.

The expertise approach in short says that very skilled performers (experts) share the same approach to their skill regardless of field. So Wimbledon-winners, Grand Masters of Chess, top Surgeons or even taxi-driver champions use the same way to develop their skill. Psychology researchers have studied high performers of different field and made several conclusions as to what is unique in their personality or approach or learning tricks. So what do they have in common?

Well, first of all they have been practicing and performing a lot, at least 10 years or 10 000 hours. But experience is a weak predictor, since you can play tennis for twenty-five years without winning Wimbledon or you can be a passionate chess player without being anywhere close to Grand Mastery. So there is something more to this than just experience.
The top performers also seem to have access to expert knowledge in times of need. Researchers saw that on routine tasks top performers would make a fairly average performance, and may even be outscored by less experienced subjects. However, when performing more difficult tasks they would excel.
Research into expertise also saw that practice was important, and top performers practiced differently than others. Their practice was deliberate. They were not just practicing; they were present in their practice. They practiced with clear goals and were open to feedback from their colleagues.
And lastly, just as one swallow does not a summer make – one single outstanding performance does not and expert make. Experts are regular top performers. They keep their performance on a regular high level.
The expertise approach seems to lend itself easily to investigate excellence in interpreting. There are some adaptation difficulties though. Interpreting is ephemeral in its nature, both because it is the spoken word, which fades quickly, but also because high quality or excellence is not easily graded. There is no ranking of interpreters; high quality in interpreting is context dependent. What is highly appreciated in one context may be utterly, totally wrong in another. Ericsson and his colleague Jacqui Smith have a three step general method for investigating expert performance. The steps consists of 1) a detailed analysis of the investigated domain and the skills necessary for experts in that domain, systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill, 2) Detailed analysis of the performance within the frames of general cognitive theory; identification of the systematic process and their link to the structure of the task and the behaviour of the performers, and 3) Presentation of the superior performance through the used cognitive processes and how they were acquired and the structure of the relevant domain knowledge.
Now, this blog post is approaching its end, and the discussion on how to operationalize these different steps will have to be dealt with next time. But just take step one and think about it for a moment; “systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill”. I know at least three mental models of interpreting, and the necessary cognitive processes are regularly the centre of discussions in Interpreting Studies, what are they and how do we study them. So clearly, using the expertise approach will require some more thinking.

Further reading

Ericsson, K.A. & J. Smith, eds. 1991. Toward a General Theory of Expertise: Prospects and Limits. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ericsson, K.A., N. Charness, P.J. Feltovich & R.R. Hoffman, eds. 2006. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ericsson, K. Anders 2010. “Expertise in interpreting”. @ Gregory M. Shreve & Erik Angelone, eds. Translation and Cognition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 231–262.


by Elisabet Tiselius

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