University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK

Five principles and five basic skills to train conference interpreters

I believe that one can not become a good interpreter without becoming a very good linguist first. Being a very good linguist means having a flair for languages, being able to talk the hind leg off a donkey, having the gift of the gab.... and be articulate.

In this paper I intend to provide a brief description of a number of guided training exercises which I use in my teaching work with groups, and which can be used by all students outside the classroom as part of their self-training. I believe that the role of an instructor is to provide strategies for the successful self-training of students, as well as designing the course and monitoring the students' performance in the classroom. We have a limited number of hours in the classroom with our students, so it is important that they know how to continue training themselves outside the lab.

In 1982, I myself was interpreting for an international seminar in Moscow on training Olympic swimmers, organised by the Soviet National Olympic Committee for foreign coaches. I took great pleasure in being able to observe the highly professional work of one of the best coaches at that time, Voitsekhovsky. The group of coaches from the different countries spent many hours in the swimming-pool, where Voitsekhovsky was recording every single movement of the Olympic Soviet swimming team, and subsequently (de)briefing each swimmer individually, analysing each and every movement, and developing strategies for each leg, arm, breathing, etc. The very process of swimming was fractionated into small stages or parts. Those swimmers were already very close to beating or had already beaten Olympic and World Records: they were professionals (though they were regarded as amateurs in the Soviet Union). They were not just practising swimming to become better swimmers

Later I realised that training interpreters is very similar to training athletes or musicians: one has to train the body (muscles), co-ordinate every movement with the breath (lungs) and develop different strategies to win the race or to perform a concert. There is a widely accepted opinion that it is essential to learn to interpret by doing (practising) interpreting. At the same time we know that bad habits die hard, especially for those activities that require automation, like driving, swimming, playing musical instruments or performing simultaneous interpretation. Two very important words have already been mentioned: (de)briefing and self-recording, bothrelevant beyond the realm of Olympic swimming.

When learning is hard, the "battle" won't be. (Old Russian proverb)
There are a number of basic principles that I follow in my practical teaching work:

The first principle is:

Before starting work with a new training exercise, explain its potential value and psycholinguistic/ professional reasons, and explain how it can be used and adapted by interpreters later in other circumstances.

The second principle is:

Increase the students' self-confidence, particularly where their memory is concerned. This is definitely necessary because almost all of them complain of not being able to memorise new information or retain certain pieces of important data in their short-term memory (STM).

Example: an exercise with interesting/funny information, which is used in order to demonstrate to my students that they can easily remember quite complicated information, provided it is important or interesting to them. Here I explain how our memory works and how it deals with important and unimportant information which we intend to memorise.

The exercise is called Very Interesting or Muy Interesante and is a dictation of short texts containing interesting figures, dates and information, etc.

Just two examples:


DICTATION (instructor's text or recording)



  • There are 7 million people in the world with assets of more than $1 million.
  • 330,000: native Indians in Brazil, one-fifteenth of the number when the country was discovered 500 years ago.
  • 93,000 salmonella infections, some fatal, are caused annually in the USA by pet reptiles and amphibians.
  • 94 million hens' eggs are eaten by Austria's 8 million inhabitants over the Easter holiday.
  • $4 million is a preliminary sum allocated by the Moroccan government to compensate people unjustly detained during the reign of King Hassan II, who died last July.
  • APPROXIMATELY: (almost, nearly)

    DICTATION (student's text)


    APPROXIMATELY: (almost, nearly)
    The dictation may be in either language and may swap between the two languages once self-confidence is gained and the exercise is being used purely to train STM.

    The third principle is:

    Work hard on the students concentration and level of attention from the very beginning.

    Example: An exercise with distractions, like extra sounds, excessive gesticulation, etc. This kind of distractive modelled environment" I call training in extra-difficult or obstacled conditions. Any instructor can create his or her own list of distractions and extra difficulties, depending on the level of the group or the specific aim.


    Training in extra-difficult conditions

    List of extra-difficult conditions:

    The 4th principle which I follow in my practical work is:

    New exercises have to be very clear and straightforward in order to be understood and worked through the first time (with a short (de)briefing afterwards). The next time, the training exercise has to be difficult (an authentic or almost real-life level of difficulty). A real-life level of difficulty refers mainly to the speed of presentation or the sentence complexity, or a lot of specific vocabulary.

    The 5th principle is:

    If you work with audio recordings give your students the script and ask them to self-record their performance even outside the lab.

    There is one more principle - this time negative - which is why it is not included in the official "list":

    It is not my task to teach the students vocabulary.

    Firstly, this is because the trainee interpreters studying the MA in Interpreting de facto have to have a sufficient level of proficiency in L2 and L3. It is the primary criterion for admission to such MA courses. The aim is clear: we do not teach languages, we teach interpreting.

    Secondly, in any case I think that it is a waste of teaching time to "teach" new vocabulary on a word-to-word level on MA courses. It is the students responsibility to do this all the time if they want to be professional interpreters. At the same time I admit, the ideal course may include some specific hours of training dedicated purely to word-to-word drills (not teaching) from L1 (or SL source language) into L2 (or TL target language), continually alternating both languages. The purpose of such a drill is not to learn new vocabulary, but to achieve an automatic response to vocabulary in both languages: L1 and L2.

    The Golden Rules of Simultaneous Interpreting and some training strategies:

    The "Golden Rules" of SI
    One can state the following:
    BUT: How to apply each rule for guided training and self-training purposes?
    1. Remember that Interpreting is an Act of Communication
    • Speak clearly, while practising
    2. Make the best possible use of the technical facilities
    • rules of booth behaviour
    • "phone" ear
    3. Ensure you can hear both the speaker and yourself clearly
    • work with two audio sources (both are important)
    • shadowing
    4. Never attempt to interpret something you have not heard or acoustically understood
    • work with distracting elements
    • work with different accents (both local and foreign)
    • build your own list of accents
    5. Maximise your concentration
    • work with two audio sources (one is irrelevant)
    • train in a distracting environment
    6. Try not to be distracted by focusing attention on individual problematic words
    • abstracting
    7. Cultivate split attention, with active, analytical listening to the speaker's input and critical monitoring of your own output
    • shadowing
    • work with two audio sources:
      1. one source is irrelevant
      2. both are important
    8. Use, where possible, short, simple sentences
    • paraphrasing
    9. Do not translate "words" - work with "units or chunks of meaning"
    • frozen translation/interpreting (see TRANSPARENCY 4)
    10. Be grammatical
    • record yourself and listen critically to your own delivery
    • work with "units of meaning": compose a sensible text
    11. Make sense in every single sentence
    • record yourself and listen critically to your own delivery
    • clozing
    12. Always finish your sentences
    • finish unfinished sentences (see TRANSPARENCY 5)
    13. Try to end a speech as close as possible to the speaker
    • strategy: be aware of the end of the speech (listen carefully, pay attention to the intonation and specific words, like "summarising", "in conclusion"
    14. Once started - there is NO going back! "Do not leave your audience halfway!"
    • finish unfinished sentences
    • key-words (see TRANSPARENCY 6)
    15. The list is still open
    • ..

    Below are a number of techniques used in my classes which aim to develop a number of skills that I recognise as essential for any interpreter.

    Training techniques and exercises to teach:


    Concentration vs Dispersed Attention

    Dispersed attention can be compared with light, which passes through a matte crystal and illuminates a large square. If we use lenses instead of a matte crystal, the illuminated spot with light focused on it would be considerably smaller but brighter. The concentration of attention focuses our perception on one item, while other - peripheral - objects disappear from it. Research on cerebral activity in a state of deep concentration reveals that there is no asymmetrical activity at that specific moment, and that both hemispheres work together simultaneously (See Granovskaya, 1997: 60).

    Interconnectability between activities

    Interconnectability is defined by the speed of transition from one type of activity to another. The dispersed attention allows us to maintain several different objects within our field of attention. The more "passive" or "relaxed" a person's condition, the better the result of our "dispersed" attention activity. The instructor's role is to explain this and create the necessary conditions while teaching. Self-confidence can help considerably in creating a "relaxed" condition during the process of SI (See Granovskaya, 1997: 62, 63).

    Ear preference/hemisphere dominance

    There is a clear dependence between the dominant hemisphere and the dominant eye. Is there any similar dependence between the dominant hemisphere and the dominant or comfortable ear for interpreters?

    There is still no official, definitive result on a right/left ear preference for professional interpreters, but some practising interpreters claim that by shifting one headphone slightly off one ear, they manage to focus better on the incoming message. One ear is covered by the headphone and the other, partially released ear, is used to monitor their own delivery in L2.

    It is still unclear whether this is the same ear as what might be referred to as their telephone ear or whether right-handed and left-handed interpreters always release the same ear when interpreting from L1 (SL) into L2 (TL) and from L2 into L1, but one thing is clear: each one of the trainees has to find his/her comfortable ear for each of the language combinations. In my practical classes I simply inform my PG students, trainees in simultaneous interpreting, about such a possibility and ask them to try each ear with each language combination. Some of them are immediately aware during the class training that one of their ears is more comfortable; others need more time and more self-observation.

    So what should we teach future interpreters? My answer is: interpretingtechniques.What does this mean? What kind of skills do we need to teach them?

    Those skills are:

              b) for simultaneous interpreting:
              and finally to deliver (verbalise) the message in TL while listening to the new portion in SL.

    Separate training for each skill may include:

    1a.- Selective Listening

    This mainly requires a lot of attention and concentration, which is why the following is necessary:

    1b.- Selective Listening combined with phrase shadowing/paraphrasing 2.- understanding

    requires mainly language guessing and predicting skills.

    3.- memorise the information in L1

    This requires skills such as instant short and medium-term active memory. It is necessary to work on:

    Special training is required for all of these skills. Very useful exercises include: 4.- translation A

    requires important skills such as the ability to compose edited texts based on certain key-words (or symbols for consecutive interpreting) or good "editing" and text compression. Such skills need special training using the key-words methodology. The main options might be as follows:



    4.- translation B (sight)
      1. see the following chunk or
      2. change anything translated (written) previously.
    5.- delivery (verbalisation)

    This requires the development of the following skills:

    for simultaneous interpreting:

    for consecutive interpreting: Verbalisation and "editing" imply training the "re-telling" or paraphrasing ability, which starts in L1 using key-words and a selection of common symbols, and then continues in L2.

    We have to teach our students all those skills and, at the same time, we as instructors have to familiarise them with interpreters' ethics and codes of behaviour, along with self-training techniques.

    Graduates, before sitting interpreting exams for admission to European and international institutions, need extra training (often they train at home using far from sophisticated equipment). They often ask what to do to convert raw material, mainly articles and tapes recorded from radio into a training exercise. Generally speaking, they are interested in learning how to take any text and convert it into a training exercise. It is relatively easy to find articles on almost any topic currently being discussed at the European Parliament or Commission; even original documents from these bodies are often available on the Internet, but the main question remains the same: can they be used as they are for training purposes?


    Teaching students to make meaningful use of any source of raw material

    (i.e. texts, radio and TV recordings, etc.)


      traditional "classic" clozing :
      a) taking out every 10th word
      b) any word (working mainly on synonyms and antonyms, organised as rows and chains)
      clozing for dictations (missing words have to be written by the student in the L2)
      clozing to train memory (dictations on figures and names, like the "Very Interesting" exercise)

      It is always important to remember that a text represents a different genre, which poses several problems and, in turn, strategies:

    a) syntactical level: simplify complex sentences;
    b) add "redundancies"
    Recording a "mutilated" text on tape presents another set of variables: There is no danger that the student will "memorise" the text, every time the text will be perceived as "new". Syntactical work a) divide the text into units of meaning

    b) try to compose meaningful sentences based on those units of meaning

    "Scissors" Key-words a) the "unmutilated" original text;
    b) frozen translation.

    Once one has a tape, is it a good idea to start interpreting immediately? It is advisable to do some
      1. Finish unfinished sentences
      2. Start sentences
      1. "Count Monte Christo" exercise: reconstruct the whole text cut into two unequal pieces
      1. given in SL
      2. given in TL
      3. given in both: SL and TL

    The training of future interpreters should necessarily include some psycholinguistic training, taking into account the fact that a major part of the work depends on self-preparation by the students. The instructors role, to aid self-preparation, is to provide some useful guidelines, strategies and exercises that can be used outside the language laboratory, without an instructor and without sophisticated equipment. The aim of this paper is to offer some general ideas concerning self-preparation for future interpreters and the role of the instructor.


    Chernov G. (1994) "Message Redundancy and Message Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting", in: Lambert S., Moser-Mercer B. (eds), Bridging the Gap: Empirical Research in Simultaneous Interpretation, Vol.3, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, Ed.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1994: 139-153.
    Hamers Josiane F., Blanc Michel H.A. (1989) Bilinguality and Bilingualism, Cambridge University Press.
    Gerver D. Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation and Human Information Processing. London: Social Science Research Council, report HR566/1
    Granovskaya Rada M., Bereznaya I.Y. (1991) Intuition and Artificial Intellect, Leningrad (in Russian).
    Granovskaya Rada M., (1997) Elements of Practical Psychology, St-Petersburg, SVET Publishing Co (in Russian).
    Kornakov Petr, (1996) "Russkaja grammatika kak osnova kursa "Vvedenie v ustnyj (sinxronnyj) perevod", Rusística Española, n. 6: 31-38 (in Russian).
    Kornakov Petr (1996), "To Teach Interpreting or to Teach through Interpreting?" Rusistica, Great Britain, June, n. 13: 17-20 (in Russian).
    Pearl Stephen B. (1995) "Lacuna, myth and shibboleth in teaching simultaneous interpreting", Perspectives: Studies in
    Translatology, n. 3 (2): 161-190.




    Global Warming will kill 20m


    More than 20 million

    people face starvation,

    drowning, or dying of

    thirst in the next 50 years because

    of the "unstoppable juggernaut" of

    climate change,

    four leading British climate

    scientists claimed today.


    The Kyoto summit

    on global warming,

    which opened yesterday,

    fails to address the real problems,

    they say.


    Politicians should be looking

    to adapt to climate change

    rather than arguing

    about inadequate emissions targets.


    The four,

    key advisors to the Government,

    released their findings to

    The Guardian "to inject some reality

    into the proceedings".


    Investors burned?

    1. If emerging markets have only half finished their reforms, ¦¦¦ what of private investors?
    2. Some are venturing back into ¦¦¦ emerging markets.
    3. This year the IMF expects net portfolio equity flows ¦¦¦ to double to $42 billion, more than in 1996.
    4. It also estimates that emerging economies issued $25 billion of new bonds ¦¦¦ in the first quarter of 2000, up from only $57 billion in the whole of 1999.
    5. And yet there are signs that investors ¦¦¦ have learnt some lessons.
    6. Although they are willing to buy emerging-market bonds, they are not ¦¦¦ repeating the mistake of thinking that these bonds carry little more risk than their first-world equivalents.
    7. Three years ago, at the height of the emerging-market boom, the gap between ¦¦¦ interest rates on emerging-market bonds and safer US Treasury bonds fell to less than four percentage points.
    8. Today, the spread is almost ¦¦¦ nine points.
    9. The question is whether this new ¦¦¦ investor prudence is permanent.
    10. Todays caution may reflect the painful memories (and costs) of ¦¦¦ Russias default in 1998.
    11. It may also be because several emerging-market governments have ¦¦¦ defaulted on their bonds, or demanded restructurings.
    12. Ukraine, Pakistan and Romania have all ¦¦¦ renegotiated their bond contracts.
    13. Ecuador simply ¦¦¦ defaulted.
    14. These actions have not closed down emerging bond markets, as many ¦¦¦ investors said they would.
    15. But they have added a new dimension of risk, reducing the chance of ¦¦¦ excessive inflows which is all to the good.
    16. Bank lenders seem even more ¦¦¦ cautious.
    17. Net bank loans are still falling, particularly to ¦¦¦ Asia, which previously relied heavily on them.
    18. But the pace of bank withdrawal ¦¦¦ has slowed.
    19. This year the IMF expects net repayments of ¦¦¦ around $11 billion.
    20. The other big change in investor behaviour is the lower profile of hedge funds and ¦¦¦ other highly leveraged institutions in emerging markets.
    21. Increased market discipline, greater oversight from their creditors and lost bets in other markets have ¦¦¦ combined to clip their wings.

    Global Environment Outlook 2000


    TASK: Create meaningful sentences

    this week

    looking at

    an important report

    produced by the United Nations

    to make disturbing reading

    global environment outlook 2000

    the state of the world

    approach the year 2000

    in terms of


    global population

    to warn

    time is running out

    to prevent damage


    it is already too late

    to prevent

    irreparable harm to



    "full-scale emergencies"


    severe water shortages

    reduced agricultural productivity

    through loss of topsoil

    greater unwanted vegetation growth

    along coasts

    algae at sea

    caused by

    heavy application of

    fertilisers on the land

    key finding





    to recommend

    developed world

    to cut

    use of natural resources

    by 90%

    developing world

    a chance

    to emerge from poverty.

    tropical rainforests

    has gone too far

    to prevent irreversible damage

    it's already too late

    to regain

    environmental balance


    to discuss the report

    issues that it raises

    to be joined by

    Head of the UN Information service



    Landmines: key-words

    every night

    on television

    images of war


    trains and vehicles

    in flames

    losing their lives


    in battle

    the number of

    civilian deaths


    loss of military lives

    the end of a war

    the end of the suffering

    many people


    hidden landmines

    by warring sides

    this means

    local people

    too afraid

    to leave their homes



    the economy


    70 countries

    the UK


    to halt

    manufacturing of


    a major manufacturer


    the UN


    110 million landmines


    the ground

    around the world.

    two million more


    every year

    the Mines Advisory Groups

    set up


    to address the problem

    Landmines: finish the following sentences: