Launching International Collaboration for Interpretation Research

By Shaw, Sherry | Sign Language Studies, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Launching International Collaboration for Interpretation Research


Shaw, Sherry, Sign Language Studies


THE INTERPRETER EDUCATION PROGRAM (American Sign Language/English) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) was established in the early 1980s as an associate of arts degree program and expanded to include a bachelor of arts degree in 1995. In the late 1990s, it became evident that students who completed an American Sign Language (ASL) sequence (typically four semesters) and declared a major in interpretation (whether pursuing an AA or a BA degree) consistently had difficulty transitioning from language courses into the interpretation component of their programs of study. Comments such as "I'm not ready to interpret" and "I need another sign language class" directed the project designers to pursue a clearer understanding of the problem and to formulate solutions from an organized research effort.

Interpreter Education Programs (IEPs) often encounter a dilemma when attempting to assist students who have completed a second-language learning sequence in their transition to interpreter education. It is not unusual for students to exhibit difficulties making this transition when they perceive that their language base is inadequate to successfully complete the interpreting sequence in their program. This investigation was designed to obtain international perspectives by (a) exploring factors that contribute to or inhibit readiness to apply language skills to interpretation and (b) identifying similarities and differences between students' perspectives of this transition in the context of signed language and spoken language interpretation programs. The idea of exploring comparisons between the two types of language interpreting led to the establishment of a joint research venture between the United States and Austria in Phase I (a qualitative inquiry) and Austria, Canada, Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and the United States in Phase II (a quantitative study).

Guiding Literature for Research Collaboration

The issues surrounding international joint ventures (IJVs) are not new to the corporate realm. Much has been written about the instability and stability of such alliances and their continuation, reformulation, or termination (Lin and Germain, 1998; Reuer, 2000; Yan, 1998; Yan and Zeng, 1999). This body of literature assisted us in the formulation of a strategy for implementing this project.

Assessing the Potential for a Stable Alliance

Yan (1998) suggested the importance of understanding the impact of local political and legal environments, partner contributions, and interpartner preventure relationships on project implementation and inertia. The application of Yan's considerations when establishing research collaboration ventures is likely to lead to better organizational design, more appropriate affiliate selections, and more efficient negotiation strategies. Stability of a joint venture refers to the longevity of the relationship, and it is dependent, in part, upon the combination and communication between the "parents," or partners (Creamer, 2002; Hennart and Zeng, 2002), thus making affiliate selections critical to a project's effectiveness. Once an affiliation was established for this project, a communication system was established that relied heavily on email prior to the face-to-face meeting. Maintaining contact, particularly between phases, was critical to keeping the partnership alert and intact once Phase II was initiated.

Concerns about Instability

Factors that contribute to instability include "conflicts in shared management, cross-cultural differences, ownership structures, characteristics of the sponsors, and external environmental forces" (Yan and Zeng, 1999, 400). Whereas compatibility of all of the partners in this study was excellent and extremely rewarding, subtle differences between personal or collective cultures have required consideration and growth on my part, unfortunately sometimes after a blunder. For example, the simple custom in the United States of referring to colleagues by first names, whether in person or correspondence, warranted a change when working within a European culture that addresses people by appropriate professional titles and surnames. …

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