Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Role of Research in Interpreter Education

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Role of Research in Interpreter Education

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Many interpreters who are well established in the profession today most likely acquired their skills and earned their academic credentials at a time when the relationship posited in my title would have been considered controversial, to say the least. As demonstrated by the successful performance of many accomplished professionals, interpreting skills can be acquired in formal instruction without any reference to research. I myself can attest to that from my experience as a student in the Department of Translator and Interpreter Training at the University of Vienna in the 1980s. (Indeed, the official designation itself, which survived well into the 1990s, fore-grounded skill acquisition rather than a field of study.) Without any theory-laden lectures and seminars, much could be gained from the practice-oriented instruction by experienced interpreters whom we regarded (and admired) as masters of our craft, as in the venerable tradition of masters teaching their apprentices.

The medieval tradition of the master teaching the apprentice is by no means obsolete, and in a recent book by Jurgen Stahle, one of Germany's leading conference and media interpreters, the author suggests that interpreter training should be founded on exactly this master-apprentice model (2009, pp.357-358). By the same token, though on a more recent academic foundation, David Sawyer, whose academic affiliation in Germany was the same as Stahle's (i.e. the interpreter training school at the University of Mainz at Germersheim), observed: "Although leading interpreter education programs are situated in an academic environment, interpreter training has never truly left the realm of apprenticeship." (Sawyer, 2004, p.76)

Against this background of vocationally oriented professional training, the issue to be examined in this paper is not trivial, even though it might seem so from the perspective of a twenty-first-century academic. The difference in perspective is in fact signalled by the key concepts used interchangeably above--"interpreter education" and "interpreter training". (In fact, the former was hardly used in spoken-language interpreting circles before it appeared so prominently in the title of Sawyer's book.) We might therefore attempt to distinguish between the two, as Sawyer does when he contrasts "practical skills training" with "the scholarly acquisition of abstract knowledge" (2004, p.77). At first sight, it is the latter that would be associated with such notions as 'scholarship' and 'research', but as I intend to highlight in this paper, the two areas are closely intertwined. I will discuss this (inter)relationship under the headings of 'Research for', 'Research on', and 'Research in' interpreter education, beginning with the basic question of why there should be a role for research in interpreter education in the first place.

2. Why (do) research?

Why, then, does research come into the picture of university-level interpreter education, or why should it? The most pragmatic answer derives from this very institutional status: it has become accepted (not least thanks to European precedents since the 1940s) that the education of future interpreters (and translators) should take place at university level, where the combination of teaching and research is a fundamental principle. However, such academic status cannot be taken for granted. In some domains (e.g. healthcare interpreting), and in some countries (e.g. Japan, at least until the 1990s), would-be interpreters attend courses offered by agencies outside the academic system, many of which would be future employers. (Until a few decades ago, this was also true for SCIC, the European Community's interpreting service.) Against this backdrop, most of my remarks about the relationship between research and teaching refer to those domains of interpreting for which degree programs are offered by university-level institutions; and since many of these are still geared towards international conference settings, the research in question likewise centers on these domains. …

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