Intensive retour course into English at the University of La Laguna, September 2014
Today we are interviewing Michelle Hof, author of The Interpreter Diaries blog and teacher at our Masters in Conference Interpreting down here in La Laguna, about the one-week course on retour interpreting into English that she and fellow trainer Matthew Perret will be running this upcoming September here in Tenerife.
What is the student going to learn during your one-week retour course in La Laguna?
A lot, I hope! Matthew and I take a very communication-based approach to training. We believe that teaching retour isn’t just about having a native speaker tell you “I would have used this word” or “we don’t say that in English”. Our approach involves taking a close look at how English speakers tend to express themselves as compared to speakers of other languages, and analyzing the intonation, speech styles and rhetorical devices that come naturally to a native speaker of English but which a non-native speaker might not immediately pick up on. The ultimate aim of retour training, as we see it, is to have interpreters reach the point where users forget that they are listening a translation from, say, Spanish, German or Mandarin and just receive a message in clear, easy-to-follow English.
How is the course structured?
We will be offering 30 hours of training over five days. The plan is to split the time evenly between simultaneous practice, consecutive classes and retour enhancement exercises, including reformulation and public speaking skills as well as language enhancement. Last year we offered a wide variety of activities, including Oxford-style debates, mock conferences and press briefings, a simulation of an institutional accreditation test, and even a pop culture quiz! Not only do we believe that variety is the spice of life, we know that people are more open to learning when they are having fun, so we will offer a broad mix of exercises that will appeal to different types of learners.
Speaking of fun, we will also be offering extra activities not strictly related to retour interpreting. Students will be able to sign up for hiking or diving excursions on the weekends just before and after the training week, and we will also organize an evening out in the old town of La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After all, we would hate to have people fly all the way to Tenerife without being able to enjoy some of what this beautiful island has to offer!
Is the course aimed exclusively at interpreters who work from Spanish into English?
Not at all. The first edition of the course was for Spanish interpreters only, but this year we’ve opened up the application process to interpreters of all languages. So far, we have had expressions of interest from interpreters from over half a dozen booths, including Italian, German, Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.
I’m quite excited about taking the mixed-language approach this time. Matthew has many years of experience working with mixed-language groups, and the truth is that putting interpreters from different booths together can be very beneficial for the learning process. It can help students focus on what really counts – communication and expression in English – while moving them away from purely linguistic discussions about how best to translate a specific concept in the source language. Also, this approach minimizes the typical interference you get where everyone in the room understands both source and target languages and spends more time comparing the two instead of thinking about the quality of what’s being produced.
When exactly is the course being held in September?
It will take place from September 8th to 12th. It’s a convenient time, as it will be just before the fall interpreting season starts up again in earnest, but at the same time won’t cut into colleagues’ August holiday plans.
How many students will you take on the course? You will have already been receiving applications – how many spots are still available?
We have set the maximum group size at 12 participants. For some sessions, we will split the students up into two groups of six, while other sessions will be run with everyone together.
At this point, we have already received enough applications and expressions of interest to fill the group. However, we would encourage anyone who is interested in taking the course to submit their application all the same, or at least drop us a line to say they’re considering it, as we will be establishing a waiting list in case any of the current participants has to withdraw from the course. Those placed on the waiting list will be given priority for the 2015 edition, should a place not come available this year. Also, anyone who expresses an interest now will be contacted personally the next time we organize the course.
How does one go about submitting an application, and what are the minimum admission requirements?
There are two ways to apply: either via the website of the University Foundation, or by e-mail to MICRetourTraining@gmail.com. Either way, you will need to include your contact details as well as a brief CV outlining your training and professional qualifications.
The course is only open to interpreters who have completed postgraduate training in conference interpreting or the equivalent. Applicants are not required to already have English as an active (‘B’) language in their combination, but they should have at least a strong English ‘C’.
This is the second year that the retour course is being held. Did you receive any feedback from last year? Have you made any changes from the previous edition?
Yes, we elicited feedback from all participants at the end of the last course, and we’re pleased to say that the vast majority of comments were positive. In particular, students highlighted the strong group feeling that developed over the week and the value of the individualized feedback offered by the trainers. The main criticism was that the course was too short – a few students wished that they had been given even more time to practice over the five days. Partly in response to this request, we have increased the number of hours spent on simultaneous and consecutive interpreting as a proportion of the whole. However, we can’t increase the total number of hours or days offered, as even the best interpreters will burn out after a while, and we think 30 intensive class hours over 5 days is about as much as anyone should be expected to handle.
If you’d like to know more, we’ve published a selection of participant testimonials on our course page. One interpreter liked it so much that she will be joining us again this year, and another told Matthew and me that what she learned in La Laguna helped her pass the EU retour accreditation test. That is music to an interpreter trainer’s ears!
Thank you for this interview, Michelle, and all the best with this year’s course. Happy learning!