Just a month into my faculty contract and I’m already taking full advantage! I just got awarded a Flex Grant for Teaching and Faculty Development by the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development and the union (MSP), to start building a multilingual audio and text database for our interpreting courses.
UMass Amherst runs interpreting courses that are multilingual, include both students who are native speakers of English and those who are non-native English speakers, and have students who are at different levels of language proficiency (they are courses in interpreting studies with a heavy practical component, but not designed to be primarily interpreter-training classes). A significant part of the class is dedicated to readings and discussions about issues in interpreting, from linguistic and skill-set questions to debates on ethics and best practices to historical analyses of the role of interpreting. But about half the classes are set aside for practical work.
As such, it’s often very difficult to find materials for practice sessions. Right now, my class has five languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish), only one of which I know (Spanish). I have a collection of sites with audio in various languages (international news sites, language learning online, etc.), but I can’t be confident about the level of difficulty of any of the texts but the Spanish. I’ve found and created a number of monolingual exercises designed to train and reinforce particular skills associated with simultaneous interpreting (this semester’s focus is on simultaneous), and obviously, I can find audio in English that I can select for vocabulary, speed, and complexity. But this course needs a coherent component moving into English as well, and that’s been harder. (It was apparently also a difficulty for the designer of the course, for whom I’m substituting this semester while she’s on research leave.)
A possible solution: an in-house audio bank. Texts chosen for non-technical vocabulary on a variety of topics, recorded in English, translated into the languages we need, and recorded in those languages as well. It’s not the same as working with “authentic” texts or situations, but this is training, and the “authentic” texts that are available are difficult to sort through and often problematic in one or more ways (problematic accents, technical vocabulary, mumbling). I know that if my students go into interpreting, they’ll need to be able to deal with those issues, but this course is intended as an introduction to interpreting, not a finishing school. Choosing texts and then having them translated and recorded means that the whole class can work on the same topic (roughly the same text) at the same time, address the cultural issues that arise as a class, and even be able to check their understanding of the text with the written versions in either language.
I’m trying to choose texts that are not so specific that in a year or two we’ll have forgotten the context. General-knowledge, on topics that might be relevant to interpreting, with minimal vocabulary demands (this isn’t the place to challenge their vocabulary while they’re working on their interpreting- vocabulary building can happen outside the practice session), spoken clearly and a tiny bit slower than normal, with decent pauses. Given a solid corpus of audio to use at the beginning of the semester, we can then try to work our way up to authentic texts (also giving the instructor time to find some in all of the languages!) by the end.
The grant will go to pay translators and speakers to record the translations. I’m first trying to find graduate students in the department or college who are native speakers and have some translation experience; if I can’t find the languages I need that way, I’ll look further afield. I’m aiming for four (short) texts translated and recorded in each of the current five languages by the end of the semester; it’s not a huge grant, and my contract ends in May anyway. But it’s a start, and a neat project that can keep getting built little by little.