What really goes on in the brains of simultaneous interpreters?
Sometimes at conferences, people come to the interpreting booths and watch in awe.
They wonder how we can do this “magic trick” — interpreting smoothly and intelligently from one language into another without missing a beat. The truth is, it isn’t magic, and we aren’t superhumans. We are highly trained, very experienced, and our brains have adapted to the work in fascinating ways.
Neuroscientists have long been intrigued by what goes on in the brain of a simultaneous interpreter, and a great deal of research has already been done to learn about the neural pathways that are activated when we work.
Researchers recently used EEG to test a popular theory by Daniel Gile, known as the “Efforts Model”. They wanted to learn more about how the brain allocates resources to auditory perception, memory, and speech during simultaneous interpretation and discover whether these cognitive tasks compete for attention as Gile suggests.
The study revealed that the three tasks do indeed compete for resources because the brain dynamically allocates attention on an ad hoc basis. As the demand for working memory increases, less attention is available for auditory perception. So yes, our brains are incredible multi-taskers, but even professional interpreters have their limits!
This finding seems to support the Efforts Model and could help to explain why ear-to-voice span, or decalage, is such a challenge for interpreters at the beginning of their careers. There are heaps of resources available to help young colleagues with this issue, including this interesting discussion: http://interpreting.info/questions/1809/how-to-increase-evs-ear-to-voice-span-effectively
When I’m working, I use a wide variety of techniques to help me keep pace with the speaker, and the best approach always depends on the specific situation. The most important thing, though, is to avoid a “backlog” that you’ll need to catch up on.
What aspects of your work are most challenging for colleagues who are just starting out?
#Interpreting #Cognition #SimultaneousInterpreting #BrainScience