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American Annals of the Deaf

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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

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with arbitrary divisions. These divisions are cognitive (also called information processing), affective, and linguistic.[3] The linguistic division is not applicable to our discussion of interpreting learning, since interpreting students are beyond the initial stages of language acquisition. Although this transfer of principles needs to be further evaluated and is very much a work in progress, it could be used as a starting point for a discussion on what the principles of HIE could look like. Table 1 summarizes the principles that are of interest to us.

                                                            Table 1. Teaching Principles for HIE


Automaticity Self-confidence
Meaningful learning Risk-taking
Intrinsic motivation  
Strategic investment  

  • Automaticity. Through an inductive process of exposure to experimentation, students appear to acquire interpreting competence without analyzing it. In order to acquire the vast complexity and quantity of information, students must gradually move away from processing information bit by bit toward a form of processing where bits are only on the periphery of attention. Through the subconscious absorption of interpreting skills through meaningful use, students become aware of the process and become, in turn, more competent. Students need to be made aware that this is a process they need to go through to acquire competency.
  • Meaningful learning. As opposed to rote learning (taking in bits and pieces of information without necessarily connecting them to existing cognitive structures), meaningful learning pours new information into existing structures and memory systems. This means, for example, moving away from long lists of isolated medical terms and discussing the discourse of healthcare interpreting in contextualized events.
  • Intrinsic motivation. As opposed to external rewarding (like praise or grades), the most powerful rewards are those intrinsically motivated within the learner. This implies careful consideration of the motives of students in HIE and the design of tasks that feed directly into those motives. This means, for example, meaningful opportunities of contextualized practices and observation in a specific setting (i.e., emergency room) followed by structured reflection in the classroom.
  • Strategic investment. To a large extent, successful mastery of interpreting skills will be due to the student’s own personal investment of time, effort, and attention. This means designing an individualized battery of strategies (e.g., coping, analytic, and interpersonal) for professional performance.
  • Self-confidence. A partial factor in learners’ success at a task is their belief that they are fully capable of accomplishing it. This means not only explicitly encouraging students, but also sequencing techniques from easier to more difficult, therefore avoiding the “sink or swim” technique many times observed in interpreting classes.
  • Risk-taking. Successful learners will realistically appraise their potential to accomplish tasks and then decide to take the plunge, gamble in the game of learning, and attempt to produce in an area that is beyond absolute certainty. This means encouraging students to explore choices in rendering interpretations. In other words, this principle encourages students to take risks rather than constraining them to guessing for one right answer.

Needs Assessment and Student Learning Outcomes

Curricular decisions vary significantly from course decisions. In a course, there is a definite group of learners that will be impacted by the decisions a teacher makes. Inside a classroom, a needs assessment generally focuses on the needs of the students attending a particular course (e.g., their strengths, the areas in which they would need more work, or their

3. For a more complete discussion on these principles, the reader is directed to Brown 2001, chapter 4.
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