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American Annals of the Deaf

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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

Cynthia B. Roy, Editor

Designing Curriculum for Healthcare Interpreting Education:
A Principles Approach

Claudia V. Angelelli

In a classic in work in pedagogy, Brown states that “by perceiving and internalizing connections between practice (choices made in the classroom) and theory (principles derived from research) teaching is likely to be enlightened” (emphasis in the original) (2001, 54). This statement can certainly be applied to the teaching of healthcare interpreting. Healthcare interpreting (sometimes also referred to as medical interpreting or included in the term community interpreting) has been the focus of various studies which have shed light on the complexities and challenges of this specific setting (Angelelli 2001, 2003, and 2004a; Bolden 2000, Cambridge 1999; Davidson 1998, 2000, and 2001; Metzger 1999; Prince 1986; Wadensjö 1995 and 1998). Interestingly, the research produced in this field is not reflected either in current programs that aim to train healthcare interpreters nor in professional associations intimately connected with them (e.g., Mount San Antonio College and The California Healthcare Interpreting Association, or Bridging the Gap and the Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association).[1] This lack of connection leads us to assume an unfortunate divorce between research and practice that exists not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of the organization.

The disconnect between research and practice to which Brown alerted us not only occurs in the teaching of healthcare interpreting, but also in programs that provide interpreter education in general. With a few exceptions, such as the University of North Texas Health Interpreting and Health Applied Linguistics master program, the curriculum of institutions granting master’s degrees in interpreting in the United States mostly reflects the teaching of practice (Angelelli 2002).[2] Acquisition and learning of interpreting competence are narrowly defined. Coursework gives students endless opportunities to practice basic skills such as note-taking or split attention without necessarily diving into the specifics of each of the interpreting settings in which they may perform. Most of the programs are based on models of conference interpreting and, in many cases, education is equated to the training of basic skills, representing a cognitive approach to interpreting. This may be explained by how interpreting entered academia in the first place.

I have argued elsewhere (2004b) how the education of interpreters entered academia to satisfy a pragmatic need rather than to constitute a field of inquiry in its own right. In the early days (immediately after World War II), the education of interpreters was prompted by the need to ensure communication between speakers sharing similar socioeconomic status (i.e., heads of state, delegates of international organizations, or members of business communities). In the 1950s, the first university programs responded to the need for conference interpreting. Curricular decisions made at that time focused on the skills needed to perform a task rather than on the linkage between theory, research, and practice as applied to the communicative needs of speech communities who do not share the societal language. Because the training for conference interpreters represented the only academic training, many programs focusing on medical or community interpreting turned to these models for answers on how to design their curriculum.

1. In many interpreting programs and short courses, there is a tendency to use the term training in both degree and nondegree programs, instead of education or professional development, respectively.
2. See, for example, the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at The Monterey Institute of International Studies ( or the University of Southern Carolina at Charleston.
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