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New Approaches to Interpreter Education

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Although we may argue that in many interpreting courses students are presented with a problem to solve, in general it is carefully structured. Often times there is only one (or a very limited number of) right answer(s), and the focus is on solving the problem, not on working through the process. However, real (professional) life problems seldom parallel those discussed in the safe environment of a classroom. They are generally more complex and accept a variety of approaches. Teaching students about problem-solving (with well structured examples in the classroom) differs significantly from teaching students how to problem-solve. Students must be guided to reach both the objectives involved in solving the problem and the objectives related to the process. In the field of interpreting studies, many times, the discussions on pedagogy characterize some of the skills and strategies that students need to acquire as those related to problem-solving. Therefore, students in interpreting courses may benefit from having PBL as a teaching method. Interestingly, PBL seems not to be present in the healthcare interpreting pedagogy, although it is more prevalent in medical schools when student learn real or hypothetical medical cases. Since interpreting courses may also offer real-life situations to be interpreted, teachers of interpreting will find that PBL can prove useful when conceptualizing curriculum.

Like any other method, PBL presents its challenges. The main one is overcoming unwillingness to change. As Aspy, Aspy, and Quimby (1993) note, "[C]hanging a curriculum is like moving a graveyard." Faculty resists change not because it implies an effort, but because it takes time which, more often than not, is a rare commodity in higher education. It is documented that a ninety-eight-week lecture course requires 120 weeks using PBL, which equals 22% more time required (Albanese & Mitchell 1993). Additionally, faculty members receive no incentive for experimenting with new methods, and in most cases, no professional development workshops to discuss the role of a facilitator versus that of a lecturer. Faculty needs time to reflect on PBL and to develop new ways of teaching by implementing this method.

A Word about Assessment

The assessment of studentsí learning is significant for both university teaching and studentsí lives and careers. It begins with educational values, since assessment is not an end in itself, but rather a vehicle for educational improvement. Therefore, as teachers, we are responsible for taking adequate steps to ensure that assessment in HIE is meaningful and aligned with curricular goals, course objectives, and chosen methodology. This also means that in HIE, like any other educational field, teachers should be aware of the existing research on testing and measurement and be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using traditional (e.g., performance exam) or innovative (e.g., portfolios) assessment instruments, which can be as valid and as reliable as possible.

In the spirit of transparency, testing procedures and scoring standards of the HIE curriculum should be shared with students as they initiate their studies. The same needs to be done at the course level. In this way, students know exactly what the benchmarks are (what constitutes excellent, acceptable, or poor performance), and the scoring rubric turns into a helpful learning tool for students.

Suggestions for Course Sequence

  • Bearing in mind the principles described above, letís now consider what courses in HIE would look like and how they would be sequenced. As it has been suggested before, a curriculum in healthcare interpreting can exist in a variety of forms. It may be either an optional part of a curriculum designed to educate interpreters across settings (e.g., courses that amount to an area of specialization, or a track) or an area of concentration within a masterís (e.g., HIHAL) or a stand-alone program composed of a series of courses culminating with, or involving a service-learning component. In either case, even in the least ambitious of possibilities, a course series could benefit by including the following:
  • Introduction to medical interpreting
  • Language enhancement for medical interpreting
  • Strategies for medical interpreting
  • The role of the medical interpreter
  • Practicum in medical interpreting (with or without a service-learning component).

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