A taste of the real thing

by Fanny Chouc

Heriot-Watt’s interpreting students were given a great opportunity to apply their skills to a real-life setting thanks to Heriot-Watt Engage. They interpreted for the Illuminations event, which was held on campus on Wednesday 02 December to mark the end of the UN Year of Light.

As part of this event, Professor Jim Al-Khalili gave a fascinating talk on the history of optics, looking at all the scientists who contributed to the build up towards our current understanding of Light. Students were given a unique chance to interpret his speech into French, Spanish, German and British Sign Language, working either in booths or in front of the stage.

All students involved have been training as interpreters, but this was, for most, their first experience outside a classroom environment. And what an experience! They provided simultaneous interpreting to a live and e-audience (the event was streamed online), in an auditorium set to welcome 450 people. A particularly daunting prospect for our BSL students, as they were facing a particularly large audience! Students in the booths also took on a challenge for their first taste of professional interpreting: they volunteered knowing that the topic would be challenging, and in some cases, they were working into their B language.

So how beneficial was this first taste of the real things? Student volunteers saw this as a very good reminder of the key skills highlighted in class, with one of them saying: “it reminded me how important it is to stay informed not only in the field of politics and current affairs but also in the field of science”.  They also valued the chance to put their skills to the test in a real, live setting, stressing that “from a learner’s point of view it was very useful to be given the chance to interpret in a professional context in front of a live audience”. And this opportunity also enabled them to make the link between preparation and the actual interpreting process.  But most importantly, they enjoyed this chance to put their skills to the test, with one of them stating that “it was fun and a great opportunity”.

The feedback from the audience was also very positive, especially considering that some of these students only started their simultaneous interpreting training three months ago: they kept going, providing a clear and lively rendition of Prof Al-Khalili’s speech in the target languages, and coming up with clever strategies to convey the sometimes technical explanations of this well-known scientist, delivering a pleasant and efficient version of the speech in the various languages.

In the end, this proved to be a very successful experience for all, and a very good warm-up in preparation for our annual multilingual debates, scheduled for Wednesday 23rd March.

The topics chosen this year are: “This House believes that new technologies are killing real human interactions” (morning debate) and “This House believes that accessing public services in your native language should be a recognized and implemented human right” (afternoon debate). And as last year, it will also be possible to follow the event online and to listen to the interpreters in the booths or watch BSL interpreters at work. Note that the BSL interpreting will be provided for the first time by Heriot-Watt students: the first ever cohort on our M.A. in BSL interpreting has reached their final year and they’ll be joining their peers in our annual events. So save the date, and check this link if you are interested in the live streaming.

 

 

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