This experimental study investigated the relationship between signed language interpreters’ working memory capacity (WMC) and their simultaneous interpreting performance. Thirty-one professional Auslan (Australian Sign Language)/English interpreters participated: 14 native signers and 17 non-native signers. They completed simultaneous interpreting tasks from English into Auslan and vice versa, an English listening span task and an Auslan working memory span task; each interpreting task was followed by a short semi-structured interview. Quantitative results for the sample as a whole showed no significant correlations between bilingual WMC and overall simultaneous interpreting performance in either direction. The same trend was established for both the native signers and the non-native signers, considered as two separate groups. The findings thus suggest that professional signed language interpreters’ WMC as measured by complex span tasks is not closely associated with the overall quality of their simultaneous interpreting performance. Data regarding educational and professional background showed mixed patterns in relation to participants’ interpreting performance in each language direction. In the interviews, participants reported various triggers of cognitive overload in the simultaneous interpreting tasks (e.g. numbers, lists of items, a long time lag, dense information, fatigue) and mentioned their coping strategies (e.g. strategic omissions, summarization, generalization, adjusting time lag).
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Watkins, Freya, Stacey Webb, Christopher Stone & Robin L. Thompson
2022. Language aptitude in the visuospatial modality: L2 British Sign Language acquisition and cognitive skills in British Sign Language-English interpreting students. Frontiers in Psychology 13
2021. The Two-Way Relationship between Interpreting Experience and Working Memory—A Review of Empirical Evidence. Modern Linguistics 09:01 ► pp. 187 ff.
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