M. Yenkimaleki, V.J. Heuven

Leiden University (NETHERLANDS)
Interpreting is regarded as a useful communication device when two persons (A and B) who do not speak each other’s language, want to exchange information through spoken language. The technique involves the help of a third person, a go-between or interpreter, who speaks both languages. Speaker A produces a stretch of speech, which is then summarized and translated into language B. Speaker B’s response is then translated by the interpreter into language A, and so on. Interpreting can take place in parallel with the input speech in either language A or B (simultaneous interpreting) or consecutively, i.e. in between turns taken by speakers A and B. In either case, the interpreter’s task is highly demanding; it takes years of intensive training to become a skilled interpreter. Interpreting studies have been set up to provide a model of the interpreting mechanism, which in turn may be used to set up and improve training programs for student interpreters.

When interpreting, the interpreter has to keep (a semantic representation of) the input speech in memory, while formulating the equivalent as a suitable output in the source language. Working memory therefore is an essential resource in the interpreting process but it has long been ignored by interpreting programs.

Our paper presents a theoretical overview of the concept of working memory and how it may contribute to the quality of (simultaneous or consecutive) interpreting. There are some special methods to train memory which are generally accepted. However, few curriculum developers talk about memory training for interpreter trainees in academic institutions. Specific functions of working memory in the interpreting process are to
(i) retain source language,
(ii) compute the meaning (i.e. to understand) of the source language and
(iii) encode (as well as possible) the same meaning in the target language.

We will review and discuss methods to train memory for interpreter trainees specifically targeting the three aspects identified above. Our conclusion is that memory (sub)skills in interpreting could be acquired by interpreter trainees through effectively designed exercises. With a well-trained working memory, interpreters can actually be equipped with an effective tool for the encoding and decoding of information. It is suggested, therefore, that academic settings for future interpreter training include memory training in their curriculum.