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Some aspects of teaching oral consecutive interpretation in higher education instruction

This article represents the author's approach to teaching the course of oral consecutive interpretation in higher education institutions. Having reviewed several definitions of the concept of «translation» presented by the masters of this type of activity, the author further delves into the study of the concept and main characteristics of oral consecutive interpretation. The subtypes of this type of interpretation, including at-sight translation, phrasal interpreting, consecutive interpretation without notation, consecutive interpretation with notation, are listed. Subtypes of oral consecutive interpretation are illustrated by a system of exercises aimed at developing students' skills necessary for oral transfer of messages from English into Russian and vice versa. In addition to several such exercises, the author also provides for methodological recommendations for working out a particular type of interpretation, and also gives a list of alternative exercises, the use of which can significantly expand the scope of professional skills and abilities of students — future translators. Exercises are taken from the «Practicum on oral translation» published by the author two years ago, and are successfully used by her as a teacher at the interpretation lessons with university students.

They often say: «Translation is an art, interpreting is a craft». It would be quite possible for the interpreters to be offended by such an opinion, but this should not be done for one simple reason: there is no clear boundary in the English language that separates the concepts of «art» and «craft». According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, art is «the ability or skill involved in doing or making something» [1; 61], craft is «a profession, especially one needing a special skill» [1; 316]. As it can be seen from these definitions, both concepts imply certain skills of mastering something (in our case, mastering interpretation skills).

There is a great number of definitions of the «translation» notion. Different scientists interpreted translation differently at different times. Here are just several opinions.

A.V. Fedorov: «Translation is considered, first of all, as a speech work in its correlation with the original and in connection with the peculiarities of the two languages and with the belonging of the material to certain genre categories» [2; 11].

A.D. Schweitzer: «Translation can be defined as an unidirectional and two-phase process of interlingual and intercultural communication, in which a secondary text (metatext) is created on the basis of a primary text subjected to the targeted («translation») analysis. This secondary text replaces the primary one in another lingual and cultural environment … A process characterized by the directive to transmit the communicative effect of the primary text, which is partially modified by the differences between two languages, two cultures and two communicative situations» [3; 75].

R.K. Minyar-Beloruchev: «The object of the science of translation is not just communication using two languages, but communication using two languages, including correlating activities of the source, the translator and the recipient. The central element of this communication is the activity of a translator or translation in the proper sense of the word, which is one of the most complex types of speech activity» [4; 29].

Translation as an activity has appeared long ago, and there is the reason to believe that interpretation has arisen before translation. Chuzhakin A., relying on the opinion of V.N. Komissarov, provides for such interesting data in his book: «Numerous facts indicate that interpretation has a thousand-year history. In ancient Babylon and Assyria there were groups of interpreters, who informed the conquered nations about the sovereign's commands. In general, without interpreters, the existence of ancient empires resulting from the conquests of many countries inhabited by multilingual people would not be possible. In ancient Egypt, there was already a special school, where interpreters had been taught to contact with neighbors» [5; 12].

Interpretation is divided into consecutive and simultaneous, which also, in their turn, have subtypes. Consecutive interpretation is «a kind of interpretation, in which speech is interpreted sequentially, i.e. when an interpreter perceives a certain segment of speech and after some time, which is rather short, reproduces it in interpretation» [6; 32].

Speaking about the main features of such type of interpretation, the following ones can be highlighted:

  • - greater, as compared to the simultaneous interpretation, load on interpreter's memory: the length of the speaker's speech is not limited by anything (if it lasts for more than five minutes without a break, an interpreter should resort to interpreter's notation);
  • - mastering the technique of interpreter's notation, which, of course, facilitates the interpretation process, but at the initial stages can be an obstacle, as during the consecutive interpretation, as a rule, the perception of information, its analysis and synthesis occur simultaneously with the process of interpreter's notation;
  • - the situation of interpretation can also play a joke with an interpreter, since interpretation means that an interpreter is almost always in the center of everyone's attention, able to quickly respond to what is happening, ready for any unexpected things, which is quite difficult, especially for beginners and modest people.

Consecutive interpretation can be divided into the following subtypes:

  • - interpretation of oral speech;
  • - interpretation of written materials (i.e. at-sight translation);
  • - translation of oral speech (written translation of audio recordings);
  • - translation of written materials [4; 4].

Chuzhakin A. offers the following classification of types of consecutive interpretation:

  • - at-sight translation;
  • - phrasal interpreting;
  • - consecutive interpretation without notation;
  • - consecutive interpretation with notation [6; 34–36].

«Practice of oral translation» as an academic discipline is one of the most important components of the professional training of students — future translators. The discipline constitutes a core component. The purpose of the discipline is to form students' corresponding competencies to ensure mutual understanding between the representatives of different cultures and languages in various spheres of international, political, economic, scientific, public life within the framework of interpretation. One of the tasks is the formation of future specialists' knowledge, skills and abilities in implementing various types of interpretation.

To accomplish the task set, first of all, students should be acquainted with the existing subtypes of interpretation and their characteristic features. In order to successfully complete interpretation, students must be clearly aware of its purpose. It is important for them to know about factors, which can facilitate or complicate a particular subtype of interpretation, as well as about the requirements placed on them.

Let us briefly consider some basic subtypes of consecutive interpretation and examples of exercises aimed at developing students' skills and abilities necessary for oral transmission of messages from English into Russian and vice versa.

At-sight translation. When performing exercises for practicing this type of interpretation, it should be remembered that at-sight translation can be done with or without the preliminary preparation. Without any doubt, first, it is necessary to work out at-sight translation with the preparation. You can give students such a task as a home assignment or provide them with some time right at the lesson. Much depends on the complexity of the text for interpretation and the level of students' training. It is advisable to spend several minutes for preparing texts containing a familiar vocabulary for students; if the text belongs to a complex genre (for example, scientific-technical), it is better to give students the opportunity to prepare for the interpretation of this text at home.

Regardless of the preparation time, students should understand the main content of the text, the thought that the author wanted to express; identify and make a list of unfamiliar words and word combinations with their translation, work out this list, having memorized it (if it is necessary); mark in the text the most difficult places to interpret and think about the possible variants of translation of difficult constructions.

In the beginning of training it is recommended to offer students texts containing material familiar to them in terms of vocabulary, gradually replacing such texts with ones with unworked vocabulary. After each interpretation it is extremely important to comment the mistakes made by students.

For each text a teacher can develop small additional exercises, which can help students to prepare for the interpretation in more detail or to expand their knowledge of the topic. For example,

Text 1. Ex. 1. Suggest the translation equivalents for the following medical institutions:

  • - Shanghai Jiao Tong University, School of Medicine;
  • - Heidelberg University;
  • - Medical University of South Africa;
  • - Tver State Medical Academy of the Federal Agency for Community Health & Social Development;
  • - Peoples' Friendship of Russia;
  • - Saint Petersburg State Medical Academy (named after I.I. Mechnikov);
  • - Karaganda State Medical University;
  • - Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi;
  • - Orthopedia & Prosthetic Centre, Chennai;
  • - Nightingale Diagnostic & Eye Care Research Centre, Kolkata.

Ex. 2. Find translations for the following words and word combinations in Russian and memorize them: health care, doctor's appointment, office hours, to be cured, to get better, to diagnose, to write out the prescription, the ambulance, emergency treatment center, maternity hospital.

Ex. 3. Interpret into Russian paying special attention to «precision information», especially names of institutions.

Medical School in Three Years Instead of Four

Medical schools in the United States traditionally require four years of study. Now, a small number of universities are offering three-year programs. Finishing medical school in three years means new doctors could begin their careers sooner. The reduction of a year could also save up to 25 percent of the cost. That would decrease heavy student-loan debts for some students who borrow money to pay for their education. Schools offering three-year programs include the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Mercer University in Georgia. New York University in Manhattan is also testing a three-year program. At NYU, 10 percent of the nearly 200 students who entered the School of Medicine last fall were chosen for the new program. Students can change to the four-year program if the faster one is too difficult or too much pressure. Arthur Caplan is a bioethicist. He leads the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU. He says the current system of American medical education dates back to the early 20th century. An American doctor named Simon Flexner studied the German model of medical education. The Germans divided it into two years of science and two years of supervised clinical work with patients. American medical schools copied the model. But Arthur Caplan says today, medical students should be spending less time in the classroom and more time gaining experience in modern medicine. After medical school, most new doctors spend at least three years working in residencies in hospitals. Further training for specialty areas can take much longer [7; 17, 18].

As one can see, the subjects of the exercises coincide with the theme of the main text. Exercises allow not only to expand the vocabulary (which is possible after finding the equivalents of additional words and word combinations on the topic and memorizing them), but also to prepare for the interpretation, practicing the solutions to translation problems (in this text, the problem is the transfer of precision information).

Text 2. Ex. 1. Explain the following notions in English: Grade Point Average (GPA), academic performance, pass/fail, day time studies, correspondent studies, undergraduate studies, graduate studies, postgraduate studies, research, reader.

Ex. 2. Translate the following notions into Russian and memorize them: elementary school, high school, junior college, major, matric, principal, private school, public school, senior college, Department of Education.

Ex. 3. Make a summary translation of the text into Russian.

Schools find new ways to communicate with parents

Today, schools in the United States communicate with parents in many different ways. Mail is still used, but now, schools and parents connect through email, Twitter, Facebook, and Skype. The Houston Independent School District in Texas has more than 200,000 students. Most of them come from lower-income families. The newspaper Education Week recently reported on a digital-literacy training program that the district has started for parents. Microsoft helped the school district establish computer training centers for parents at five of its campuses. Other schools around the country are also increasing their digital services, and not just in English. Many schools provide information in Spanish and other languages. Free on-line translation sites can also help parents stay informed about their children's education. Some school systemseven give parents on-line access to their children's grades and schoolwork. Six hundred students attend Knapp Elementary School near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Joe Mazza is head of the school. He says nearly one in five of his students come from Bangladesh, and 12 percent come from South Korea. Joe Mazza says the most important way that a school gets to know parents is in face-to-face meetings. But under his guidance, the school has added social networking tools to meet the needs of the community. The school uses resources like Twitter, e-newsletters and Skype. Teachers can talk to parents over Skype if the parents cannot attend a conference in person. «Social media», Joe Mazza says, «is providing us with many new and really free ways to connect with parents» [7; 20, 21].

In this case, the task of explaining the notions, requires additional students' training, which is expressed in finding the corresponding information, and practicing the main text also allows working out such type of translation as summary translation.

As alternative tasks in the process of practicing the texts intended for at-sight translation, one can offer the following:

  • - match the terms taken from the main text or additionally found on the topic of the text with their translation or definitions;
  • - give synonyms / antonyms of words and word combinations;
  • - find in the main text equivalents of the given words and word combinations;

- express your opinion on the problem raised in the text / organize the discussion in the form of debates. Consecutive interpretation with notation. When working out this type of translation, it is important for students not only to know the basics of interpreter's notation, but also to be able to apply them in practice. At the initial stage of working out the use of interpreter's notation, constant control of the teacher and his/her individual recommendations for each student are necessary. Texts for such exercises are selected on the principle: from simple to complex. Exercises for practicing the system of interpreter's notation can be combined with other exercises aimed at training certain translation skills («echoing» or switching from one language to another). Moreover, as in the previous case, it is useful to prepare several additional exercises for each text, such as:

  • - find suitable translation equivalents for the words in bold, give their definitions in the appropriate language; memorize words and word combinations;
  • - make a list of terms and constructions on the subject of the main text; find equivalents for them in another language;
  • - translate the given text in written form, and then use ready-made written translations to work out the system of interpreter's notation;
  • - work out the consecutive interpretation with notation of the given main text, compare several variants of using interpreter's notation offered by different students, discuss the pros and cons of each variant, choose the best one;
  • - discuss the possible translational transformations, which can be used when interpreting the text;
  • - when reading the text for further interpretation, change the speed of reading, the way of presenting the material, as well as the clarity of pronunciation.

Below are examples of texts for practicing skills of consecutive interpretation with notation.

Text 3. Что такое платёжный баланс?

В платежном балансе страны учитываются все операции, приводящие к притоку или оттоку иностранной валюты. Сложив все входящие в него счета, можно получить сумму чистого притока или оттока иностранной валюты из страны (сальдо платежного баланса). Структурно платежный баланс состоит из текущего платежного баланса (счёт текущих операций с капиталом и финансовыми инструментами). В текущем платежном балансе учитываются экспортно-импортные операции, а также инвестиционные доходы и текущие трансферты из-за рубежа и за рубеж. В балансе движения капитала учитываются операции, связанные с перетоком капитала, покупкой и продажей отечественных и зарубежных активов.

В идеале сумма этих двух составляющих равна нулю, то есть баланс сводится с нулевым сальдо. Однако на практике так бывает далеко не всегда. В этом случае для урегулирования платежного баланса Центробанкам приходится продавать либо покупать валюту. Соотношение их операций с валютными резервами и платежного баланса выражается простой формулой — дефицит платежного баланса равен чистым продажам валюты Центробанком [7; 63].

Text 4. Credit cards: America's favorite toys

Credit card, an idea born 50 years ago when an absent-minded businessman dining out left his wallet elsewhere, now provides financial convenience for an estimated 157 million Americans — close to the adult population of some 200 million.

For Miss Smith, of Washington, the cards' convenience means that when she flies on her frequent trips to Europe, she often takes less than $20 cash. «There are two things I check before I go on a trip: my passport and plastic», she said.

She carries five or six cards — close to the U.S. average. And she uses her ATM card in machines overseas to get local currency.

Credit cards were papers originally, like library cards. They didn't become plastic until 1959, a move by American Express to make them less vulnerable to fraud and easier to process.

The first cards is said to have appeared in 1950. Businessman Frank McNamara had dined at Major's Cabin Grill in Manhattan and, reaching for his wallet, realized he had left at home. Fortunately, his wife paid the tab, but McNamara wondered if a different solution could be found.

At a later meal at Major's, McNamara tried paying with a small cardboard card bearing his signature, which he dubbed a diner's club card — and it worked.

McNamara and his attorney founded Diners Club, now owned by banking giant Citi group [7; 69].

Consecutive interpretation without notation. When doing exercises of this kind, it is necessary to remember about the need to rely on memory. In addition, during such exercises, students develop the ability to separate in the stream of speech not just single words or word combinations, but completed semantic groups, which is especially important, because, as it is known, when interpreting, a specialist conveys not words, but thoughts (just in the form of completed structures).

In the beginning, students are offered short texts for interpretation, gradually the length and complexity of texts increase. One can record the finished versions of interpretation on tape to then analyze the work done, to monitor the quality of the interpretation, possible mistakes, not to forget to pay attention to the presentation manner. It is possible to do this without a tape recorder by performing an oral analysis.

It is very good to practice consecutive interpretation without notation using the example of two-way interviews, when questions are given in one language and answers to them are in another. This allows an interpreter not only to train the skills of fast switching from one language to another, but also the ability to quickly respond to what is happening, which is especially important when interpreting.

Here are some examples of such kind of interviews.

Text 5. Интервью с Биллом Гейтсом, главой «Майкрософт»

Q — Поражение Гарри Каспарова в матче с суперкомпьютером вызвало в свое время неоднозначную реакцию во всем мире. Что Вы могли бы сказать по этому поводу?

A — I answered a similar question early in 1996, when Kasparov beat the chess-playing computer «Deep Blue», I said it was just a matter of time before a computer won a match against the world's best chess player, and that it wouldn't mean much when it happened. Now a computer called «Deep Thought» has won and, as I said, the victory has little significance. It just proves that a bunch of chess experts with a computer can output a lone genius.

Q — В чем, на Ваш взгляд, заключены различия между ЭВМ и человеческим интеллектом? Может ли компьютер обобщать, мыслить и принимать нестандартные и неожиданные решения?

A — Human intelligence involves generality. A human being can be put into a general situation, understand that situation, learn new things and apply that knowledge to other situations. Playing chess can help to teach a person how to apply strategy in other games or situations and possibly even succeed in business, but playing chess can't teach a computer anything. The chess-playing computer doesn't have one iota of generality.

It's impressive that a big, breathtakingly expensive computer can perform billions of calculations amazingly fast. It will be even more impressive when inexpensive personal computers run at similar speeds. You may carry one on your belt or wrist someday, and no one will be in awe of it any more than they are in awe of a wristwatch today. What is awesome now, and will remain so then, is the human brain.

Q — Как можно подступиться к решению проблемы искусственного интеллекта? Каким путем пойдет наука — путем создания структуры, имитирующей мозг, или глубокого изучения тайн человеческого сознания?

A — We will solve this puzzle, either by inventing similar architecture or decoding the architecture of the brain. We may not be able to replicate the brain's approach in practical ways, but within my lifetime, we'll at least get a basic clue as to how the brain achieves the magnificent things it does.

Garry Kasparov's brain can play chess, translate Russian into English, and rapidly cope with new circumstances. It can also beat «Deep Thought» in chess some of the time. That's awesome [7; 83].

Text 6. Talk with L. Sergeev, Director General of Domodedovo in Civil Aviation Production Association

Q — Have you worked in civil aviation all your adult life?

A — Я по профессии военный летчик, однако когда происходило сокращение вооруженных сил — в основном за счет авиации — я попал в подлежавшие сокращению миллион двести человек. Тогда пытались перейти на ракеты, и только потом спохватились, что ракеты не все могут, нужен человек. В 1966 г. я закончил Харьковский авиационный институт и пришел работать сюда рядовым инженером.

Q — Is it difficult to make a career in your enterprise? Do you prefer to promote your own employees or hire outside executives for top positions?

А — Специфика Домодедовского производственного объединения сложилась так, что я, прежде чем стать в 1991 г. руководителем, проработал здесь 25 лет. И все другие руководители, которые занимают ответственные посты, — мои замы, начальники подразделений — шли примерно так же, проходя все ступеньки.

Q — Do you have to face a lot of crises in your daily work and which are they?

А — Их много, но на них я обращаю мало внимания. Уходишь с головой в решение какой-то экстремальной ситуации, а решив — забываешь. В последнее время больше всего сил и нервов пришлось потратить на работу с документами по реализации постановления правительства об акционировании и приватизации.

Q — Did you have a special preference for a particular investor or not while the airport was being privatized?

А — В принципе, меня не интересует, кто это будет — East Line, другая какая-то фирма или Иван Иваныч Иванов. Самое главное, чтобы инвестор был заинтересован в развитии аэропорта и принес с собой достаточную сумму денег, которая позволила бы эту заинтересованность претворить в реальную жизнь. Если не будет того или другого, то все это будет блефом, благими пожеланиями [7; 80].

Translation in the modern world is becoming increasingly important; the profession of a translator/an interpreter is becoming widespread.

«Practice of oral translation» is a core subject for students of translation departments of universities, as it develops the corresponding skills and abilities necessary for oral transfer of messages from one language to another and vice versa.

In the course of studying this discipline, students should master the main types of interpretation that require different skills and abilities. These skills are most fully revealed in doing exercises, which are the main way of developing translation skills.



  1. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (3rd ed.). (2000). Pearson Education Limited.
  2. Fedorov, A.V. (1983). Osnovy obshchei teorii perevoda (Linhvisticheskiie problemy) [Fundamentals of the general theory of translation (Linguistic problems)]. (4th ed.). Moscow: Vysshaia shkola [in Russian].
  3. Schweitzer, A.D. (1988). Teoriia perevoda: status, problemy, aspekty [Theory of translation: status, problems, aspects]. Moscow: Nauka [in Russian].
  4. Miniar-Beloruchev, R.K. (1996). Teoriia i metody perevoda [Theory and methods of translation]. Moscow: Moskovskii litsei [in Russian].
  5. Chuzhakin, A. (2003). Prikladnaia teoriia ustnoһ o perevoda i perevodcheskoi skoropisi [Applied theory of interpretation and interpreter's notation]. Moscow: R. Valent [in Russian].
  6. Chuzhakin, A., & Palazhchenko P. Mir perevoda-1 [World of interpreting and translation-1]. (6th ed.). Moscow: R. Valent [in Russian].
  7. Matasova, I.N. (2017). Praktikum po ustnomu perevodu [Practicum on oral translation]. Karaganda: Izdatelstvo KarHU.