Is one year enough to train interpreters?

Photo from European Commission Interpreters (Facebook)

On the 26th and 27th of March, I was privileged to attend the annual DG Interpretation University Conference.The Directorate General Interpretation (European Commission), also known as DG SCIC works closely with universities that provide conference interpreting training to ensure quality. Every year, university representatives are invited to come together and reflect on interpreting studies and the interpreting profession with DG SCIC at the European Commission in Brussels. You can still watch the conference on line.

During the conference, a very relevant question was asked:

Photo from European Commission Interpreters (Facebook)

"Is one year enough to train conference interpreters at University?"

I would like to use this post to expand on the contribution I made on that day.

First of all, one year may be enough for some interpreting students but not for others. Every interpreting student has a unique learning style. Every student decides to engage with learning at a very specific time in his/her life. As such, the learning context is unique for everyone. This is why the length of the course is not what really matters even though it is very important.

Secondly, the concept of learning at University is multifaceted. A course is not a product that one buys. A course is an opportunity to start a journey of learning and reflection. Interpreting students need to acquire interpreting skills if they wish to work as interpreters, this is a fact. But the acquisition of new skills is only one facet of the learning journey which does not end with the course. As far as I am concerned, I know the course has been successful when:

1. Interpreting students can make decisions on how to move their careers forward regardless of their chosen career.

2. Interpreting students are able to reflect and make decisions that match their skills, their ambitions and reality.

3. Interpreting students who want to work as interpreters for international institutions know that the journey ahead will require motivation, dedication, organisation and hard work.

4. Interpreting students are able to practice interpreting skills by themselves and assess their own performance in such a way that they can set personal learning objectives for the next interpreting exercise.

5. Interpreting students are connected to the interpreting profession and ready to contribute.

6. Interpreting students understand that despite competition, a collaborative approach to interpreting practice would be far more rewarding on a personal and professional level.

The London Met interpreting graduates who have made the best professional careers so far were not always those that acquired the best interpreting skills during the one year course. They were those that could maintain motivation, a momentum to continue developing interpreting practice by themselves or with others; they were those that knew how to network with peers with a constructive and professional approach. In a nutshell, they were those students that had identified what they really wanted to achieve and committed themselves to it.

Finally and most importantly, a university is an open platform where one can find an opportunity to share expertise, develop one's skills and reflect. To overcome the issue of one year courses for interpreting training, this concept needs to be alive. When an interpreting student makes the decision to choose a university for interpreting training, he or she does not just choose a university or a training course; they engage in a relationship of trust that goes beyond the time parameters of a course. Once they graduate, they need to be certain about the opportunities available to continue their professional development and their personal learning. 

London Met Romanian Interpreting ambassadors with current interpreting student
This is why the Ambassadors Scheme for Interpreting Studies was created at London Metropolitan University. The Ambassadors, who are interpreting graduates, give 30 hours of their time to support new interpreting students in their learning journey. It can be interpreting practice, sharing experience with notetaking skills or simply taking the time to have a coffee and discuss motivation issues or learning challenges. In exchange for their time, ambassadors can book the interpreting suite for practice, attend mock conferences and attend a short course dedicated to advanced conference interpreting skills free of charge.

At a time of financial cuts and economic pressure, high standards for training should not be compromised. This is a time to be innovative with partnerships and exchange of skills rather than exchange of money. Universities are struggling to continue training conference interpreters and public service interpreters at a high level; courses are expensive to run. Onerous equipment and a high teacher / student ratio are unique to interpreting training. Universities find it increasingly challenging to justify such expenses and commitment. If we want to continue training professional conference and public service interpreters, we more than ever need to embrace a collaborative, innovative approach with learners, graduates and professional partners before, during and after the formal boundaries of training courses, regardless of their length. 

I look forward to your comments.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and should not be taken to represent the official positions of universities, networks or associations.


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