Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Student Interpreters Show Encoding and Recall Differences for Information in English and American Sign Language

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Student Interpreters Show Encoding and Recall Differences for Information in English and American Sign Language

Article excerpt

Introduction

Researchers frequently evaluate sign language interpreter training programs (ITPs) to improve the quality of the educational process (e.g., see Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education, 2010; Davis, 2005; Napier, 2004; Shaw & Hughes, 2006; Shaw & Roberson, 2009), and in response to the common perception that many ITPs do not adequately prepare students for the field (Patrie, 1994; Schornstein, 2005; Winston, 2004). Recent graduates often perform poorly on standardised tests, such as the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (Winston, 2004) and the National Interpreter Certification (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 2008), and self-report that several years experience is required before they can interpret comfortably in a variety of situations (Gammlin, 2000). Although students may have insufficient sign language skills when they enrol in an ITP (Winston, 2005), the tendency of those students to encode and retrieve signs using strategies that are more appropriate for spoken languages may also contribute to difficulties in learning to interpret between sign and speech.

Possessing advanced memory skills is imperative to interpreters of any language (Moser-Mercer, 2000) and skilled interpreters perform better at word recall and sentence processing tasks than do beginning interpreters (Signorelli, 2008; Tzou, 2009), fluent bilinguals (Christoffels, de Groot, & Kroll, 2006; Tzou, 2009), and other non-interpreters (Signorelli, 2008; Vallandingham, 1991). Interpreters' memory skills appear to develop naturally with experience (Tzou, 2009), but the encoding strategies most adaptive for interpreters may actually be different than the strategies used by other bilinguals. For instance, interpreters rely less on phonological encoding than do bilingual non-interpreters, a preference that may develop because phonologically encoded memories are more susceptible to interference and disruption than memories encoded using other strategies (Kopke & Nespoulous, 2006). However, to our knowledge, general differences in encoding between interpreters and non-interpreters have not been systematically investigated, and the specific encoding strategies used by nonnative sign language interpreters have not been investigated at all. Therefore, the hypotheses of the current study were formulated based on findings from memory studies of native signers and speakers, but future research will need to empirically test the extent to which non-native interpreters utilise encoding strategies similar to those used by native signers.

Memory assessments of native signers and speakers have revealed that such individuals have equivalent span sizes for signed and spoken information (Bavelier, Newport, Hall, Supalla & Boutla, 2008; Hanson, 1982, 1990). Therefore, if student interpreters utilise the same encoding strategies for sign and speech that native signers and speakers use, they should have similar span sizes in both language modalities. Previous research has shown that native English speakers use phonological (Moulton & Beasley, 1975; Watkins, Watkins & Crowder, 1974) and semantic (Fliessbach, Buerger, Trautner, Elger, & Weber, 2010; Roediger & McDermott, 1995) encoding strategies during recall of spoken words whereas native Deaf signers encode signs formationally (i.e., signs with similar hand formations and signing space; Krakow & Hanson 1985) and semantically (Siple, Fischer, & Bellugi, 1977).

Converging evidence also suggests that native speakers encode information temporally while native signers encode spatially. For example, when hearing native signers (i.e., individuals native to both ASL and English) were allowed free recall of target lists in each language, they spontaneously recalled spoken lists with a higher proportion of temporal organisation than signed lists (i.e., the order of recalled words corresponded with the order of the words in the target list in English, but not in ASL; Bavelier et al. …

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