Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Going for It: Language Interpreting for a Better World

by • July 7th, 2011

Luis, Carmen and me: Happy to be there!

We are not compelled to continue all of the ritualized elements of simultaneous interpretation that we have inherited or even helped to build. We can learn from the trajectory of the last 70 years and make precise modifications in training, education, credentialing, and professional practice. These changes can be calibrated in order to reshape this special form of intercultural communication so that it serves the common good. By using simultaneous interpretation as an institutional mechanism for deliberately redressing systematic inequality, more safe and humane life chances can be generated for people of all classes and ways of life.

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What meanings are we making?

by • April 26th, 2009

two talks at Heriot Watt
by Stephanie Jo Kent

In addition to the transmission of information, the larger and deepest purpose of simultaneous interpretation is to generate and maintain common culture among people from different cultures.

As hoped, the opportunity to present on my dissertation fieldwork in-progress forced my brain to synthesize the trends and patterns that I have been noticing during this year of research at the European Parliament, as well as find words to express what I think these trends and patterns suggest about mono- and multilingualism. The effort to explain my perceptions moved me far along the analytical path; since returning to fieldwork many of the findings have crystallized further.
A few weeks ago, after more backbrain simmering, I finally uttered the statement highlighted above, distilling the years of talking with interested colleagues (and anyone else who would listen, thanks Arne!) into a single, comprehensible idea.
Purposes are human creations, not physical facts, so there is plenty of room to disagree. I am anticipating a conversation that will take place in Philadelphia in August (“Interpreting as Culture“), and other conversations that I hope grow from there and link from/with other sources (such as Ryan Commerson’s brilliant master’s thesis applying the work of

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EU promotions for interpretation

by • April 7th, 2009

online public relations
youtube videos

Someone tipped me off that the European Parliament has hired someone to make a film on the process of simultaneous interpretation (SI) from an elected Member’s point-of-view. I imagine they were carefully vetted in order to give the perspective that the Parliament wishes people to have regarding the purposes, uses, and effectiveness of interpretation. I agree that more people need to understand the value of SI, although I’m skeptical of the vision promoted by the official public relations and policy organs of the European Union. I think their view is unfortunately limited by an inherited and ingrained one-dimensional conception of what SI can do, as well as what it actually does do.
Nonetheless, all of their previous efforts do a nice job of creating desire to become a professional interpreter working at this highest of the high, most elite level of SI.

Interpreting for Europe – Into English.

Interpreting is “all about listening to ideas…”
“English native speaker interpreters . . . needed for an exciting career at the very heart of European decision-making.”
(17 Feb 2009)

Promoting multilingualism: a shared commitment
“…conclusions of the ministerial meeting by Commissioner Leonard Orban.”

(18 Feb 2008)

Interpreting for Europe (EN)
“A 10-minute history of interpretation at the

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Communication Dynamics in a Coordinator’s Meeting at the European Parliament

by • February 21st, 2009


I was introduced in this Coordinator’s Meeting as a researcher looking at “how we can cope with our language system.” This is the first time I’ve heard someone here characterize my research: that statement boils it down quite nicely!
Coordinator’s meetings occur just prior to Committee Meetings with the goal of delineating in advance the lines of engagement from each political group in the imminent debate. Every political group selects an individual to become the group expert on work being done in each of the Parliament’s permanent or temporary working committees. Someone (an MEP not present in this meeting) likened the role of a Coordinator to the position of a political commissar in the old Soviet system.
In this particular Coordinator’s meeting there were six men and eleven women from various countries, no simultaneous interpretation. The Chair (a position that rotates among the Coordinators – at least in this case) provided an overview of the agenda and invited questions and input. Not everyone spoke, but of those who did their English was readily understandable despite accents, except for one person whose accent became more prominent for a few phrases. In my notes, I recorded this incident as “lapsed into thicker

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Communication dynamics in a political group at the European Parliament

by • February 5th, 2009


“We are European! We have patience.”

My sense of urgency about coming to grips with transformations within the field of possibilities for professional interpretation is promoted by various factors, some of which I hope are transient while others are reaffirmed on nearly a daily basis.
One of these days a chapter will be published concerning a dominant theme of interpreter discourse four years ago at the European Parliament, “A Discourse of Danger and Loss: Interpreters on Interpreting for the European Parliament.” This year, Members of the European Parliament also refer to “bad English,” but few of the Members seem actually upset by it. The neutral label is “Brussels English.” The growth of a new argot arising from the interaction of various “Englishes” is inevitable; arguing against it is an outlet for frustration that does little to stop the erosive effect on conference interpreting in this exceptional house.
An announcement about interpretation was included in the “buro telegram” distributed within political group meetings last night:

In order not to prolong the chaos surrounding the 23 different official languages (largely underused) at ACP/EU meetings, a compromise has been reached between the General Secretariat and members of the assembly: translation will be carried out in

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How does interpreting make the European Parliament special?

by • January 29th, 2009


There has never been as much peaceful cooperation among the governments and peoples of Europe as occurs within the structure of the European Union. “It is not so long ago,” I have been reminded regularly, “that we were killing each other.” Professional, simultaneous interpreters enact a cornerstone of the EU project innumerous times every single day, but the tangible outcomes of using interpreters are lost in rhetoric about multilingualism and the political nature of language use. The basic truth that everyone communicates best in his or her mother tongue is suppressed by extensive promotion of language learning and various regimes of “controlled multilingualism” administered by the European Institutions. The human desire for direct communication enables critique of interpreter errors, diluting focus on the long-term positive effects of sustaining linguistic diversity through the consistent, proactive use of simultaneous interpretation.
I spend a lot of time with professional interpreters, working as one myself between American Sign Language and English for communication among deaf and non-deaf people in the U.S., as well as attending international conferences and mingling with interpreters while conducting research. Much of my worldview has been shaped by my academic interpreter training program and professional continuing education. Most particularly, however, I

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visual perceptions

by • May 14th, 2008

Work on optical illusions show how the distance from which one views a face alters the expression you think you’re seeing. Some constructions are creepy!
I’m intrigued with the function of distance. Part of what me and my committee need to sketch out is the scope of the lens I’ll use in exploring the practice of simultaneous interpretation at the European Parliament. Since each of our relative distances from the object of study differ, establishing a reasonable range might be a challenge.

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