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.