The role of advance preparation in simultaneous interpreting
A comparison of professional interpreters and interpreting students
Current comprehension models recognize the role of prior topic-specific knowledge in the processing of general and specialized discourse (e.g. Gernsbacher 1990; Johnson-Laird 1983; Kintsch 1988). In interpreting, there is widespread consensus that interpreters work better when they prepare in advance. However, research on how preparation affects interpreting has encountered such methodological challenges as high variability and the need for appropriately sensitive measures and tasks (Gile 2005). This article reports an experimental study to assess the effect of advance preparation on simultaneous interpreting of specialized speeches, comparing seven professional interpreters and sixteen interpreting students. All participants did two simultaneous interpretations, into Spanish (their ‘A’ language) from English, of presentations from scientific congresses: one with preparation materials provided half an hour beforehand, the other without preparation. Each source text contained both ‘neutral’ and ‘difficult’ speech segments (the three types of difficulty being terminology, syntactic complexity and lack of redundancy). Dependent variables were accuracy of interpretation and length of ear-voice span (EVS), the rationale being that longer EVS probably reflects processing difficulties. The results show that both groups worked significantly better after advance preparation, this being reflected both in accuracy and in ability to maintain a shorter EVS. Interaction between preparation and type of difficulty was also examined.
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