Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Teaching court interpreting on-line language-neutral

About a year ago, a very good friend and colleague, Liz Essary, asked me what I knew about language-neutral teaching. Not knowing much about it at that time from personal experience, my answer was that some well-known and respected colleagues were providing training in English for aspiring interpreters of languages of lesser diffusion; that is, languages spoken by minorities in the United States for which there is no certification.  At that time, I also knew about a series of online language-neutral court interpreter training courses and programs offered by the New Mexico Center for Language Access for court interpreter candidates seeking certification in court interpreting.

Teaching interpreting on-line is something I have been doing for over two years now, and it has been an exciting and rewarding experience.  Even more exciting is what has prompted me to write this blog post – namely, teaching a language-neutral course for an entire term in the Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI) of Glendon College of York University this fall. Glendon’s MCI includes six language threads: English-French, English-Spanish, English-Mandarin, English-Portuguese, English-Arabic, and English-Russian. Teaching interpreting in so many language pairs, requires an enormous investment in faculty and course development, while the number of students in some of the language pairs may be small.   
After identifying elements of interpreter training that can be taught using a language-neutral approach, we decided to follow this approach this fall term. For court interpreting, these elements that can be taught using a language-neutral approach include introduction to the field, skills required in court interpreting settings, understanding of the justice system, standards of professional practice and ethical behavior, civil and criminal procedure and terminology, among others.  

A key element to teaching in a language-neutral approach is self-assessment, which I have always taught no matter the approach followed. When reviewing their renditions, whether at home or in small groups, students must know what to look for to improve their performance. This includes the obvious elements of accuracy and completeness, but also being mindful of inflection and enunciation.  Is the voice clear and pleasant or is it squeaky or monotonous, etc.?   While the language-neutral approach will be followed this fall semester, students will also receive language-specific instruction to develop essential skills in sight translation, consecutive and simultaneous interpreting.

I am thrilled to teach using this language-neutral approach, which, no doubt, will pose challenges along the way.  I will be reporting on this experience in a future post.