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Sign Language Studies
American Annals of the Deaf
New Approaches to Interpreter
with arbitrary divisions. These divisions are cognitive (also called information
processing), affective, and linguistic.
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.
1. Teaching Principles for HIE
- 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
- 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.
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.