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I already asked this question in one of the threads here. However, I would like to get a more detailed response. I've heard that some people fail the first round of entrance exams(the written ones) because their A language is "inadequate". I don't understand how one's A language can be considered as such. Of course, there are people who only speak one language and who didn't get a good formal education and who don't read a lot. However, I assume that most of the people who apply to interpreting schools are well-educated. So, let's say that there are no grammar and vocabulary errors, or major style/format issues, how can the A language be evaluated as "inadequate"? Let's say I submit an article or a novel for publication. Obviously editors can tell me that it's either too long or too short or that some details are irrelevant to the plot. Still, I've never heard anyone say that one's language is not good enough.

asked 19 Jun '16, 14:45

Myra45's gravatar image

Myra45
2519913

Camille, Florian,

Thank you for your quick replies. I agree with everything you wrote. I was going to mention some of the points you touched on in my OP but I didn't want my post to be too long. Of course, you have use the words within the right context. Still, I don't understand how an educated person can be told that their A language isn't up to par? I think it's highly subjective.

(19 Jun '16, 16:58) Myra45

I never had to take such a test so I'll let other people share their experience on that but I think that being able to write without grammatical mistakes and with a proper style and vocabulary does not meant that your A language is “adequate” for interpreting, it's just a prerequisite for anyone claiming to master his or her A language. According to me, the two main criteria for a good A language for interpreting are precision (can you find the right word or expression to describe a concept? Are your words used in the proper context? Is what you write or say exactly what you mean to say?) and clarity (can you convey your ideas in a crystal clear manner? Can you explain complex concepts in a concise and structured way?). Other than that, I would say that you need to master different registers and have a diverse vocabulary.

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answered 19 Jun '16, 15:25

Camille%20Collard's gravatar image

Camille Collard
1.1k1211

"I would say that you need to master different registers and have a diverse vocabulary."

Of course you should be a well-rounded person. However, it's impossible to know the terminology of every field even in your native language, even if it's the only language you know. I've never studied geology. I won't be able to write a one-page report using proper format and terminology even in my native language. I need take a course or study a lot on my own to do it.

"can you convey your ideas in a crystal clear manner? Can you explain complex concepts in a concise and structured way?"

I understand that one needs a lot of practice.

(19 Jun '16, 19:56) Myra45

I agree with Camille Collard. There is (as far as I know) no scientific measurement of how suitable your A language is for interpreting. In entrance tests, examiners will try to determine how rich and nuanced your vocabulary is and how precisely your words match what you intend to say. As they can’t spend hours on every individual oral exam, they cannot test your expression in all registers, so they will probably focus on the ones you are most likely to encounter in intergovernmental organizations.

Correctness is also a criterion because when you are heavily time-stressed, you sometimes make mistakes (or switch registers) in a way that would never happen in a daily-life context.

For some languages (I think of Arabic), the language spoken in the booth is a kind of language you (almost) never encounter in daily life (to be confirmed by people who know Arabic because I’m only repeating what I’ve heard).

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answered 19 Jun '16, 16:14

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mflorian
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edited 19 Jun '16, 16:17

However, I assume that most of the people who apply to interpreting schools are well-educated. So, let's say that there are no grammar and vocabulary errors, or major style/format issues, how can the A language be evaluated as "inadequate"?

I have plenty of well educated friends who aren't quite able to express themselves using the right register, on spot nuances, rich vocabulary, etc. I don't know many youngsters who in their daily life or during their studies were drilled to excel at aiming for the right tone. Not to mention many, many well and bilingually educated folks who'd struggle to find the right word in a given language.

Let's say I submit an article or a novel for publication. Obviously editors can tell me that it's either too long or too short or that some details are irrelevant to the plot. Still, I've never heard anyone say that one's language is not good enough.

Maybe not. But in that line of work, you'll hear that a person has no talent or no style. How do you define those?

Still, I don't understand how an educated person can be told that their A language isn't up to par? I think it's highly subjective.

To some extent, yes. So are many exams, job interviews, and what not.

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answered 19 Jun '16, 17:05

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Gaspar ♦♦
7.3k141829

edited 19 Jun '16, 17:06

"Maybe not. But in that line of work, you'll hear that a person has no talent or no style. How do you define those?"

Obviously it's subjective. However, saying that someone has no talent or style is not the same as saying that their language is inadequate. For example, one editor might tell me that I'm the least talented writer he/she knows, while the other one might say that I'm one of the best of my generation.

"To some extent, yes. So are many exams, job interviews, and what not."

Depends on the exam and the job interview. It's possible to evaluate an accountant or an airline pilot objectively during a job interview, mainly their education, experience, professional licenses, etc. Yes, unfortunately many interviewers use subjective techniques such as behavior questions. Of course, assessing actors and dancers and some other people in the arts is subjective in most cases.

Back to my op. I'm sure that most people applying to interpreting schools are also well-educated and well-read outside of school. Yes, they need to have a broad vocabulary to work in this field and work on their A language on a daily basis.

(19 Jun '16, 19:48) Myra45

If you listen to a number of well-educated people, all speaking in your A language, you'll notice that some of them speak more adequately, beautifully, with richer vocabulary, fewer slips, generally better. It is a highly subjective thing, obviously, but really, the speaking skills and the command of language are different among people with comparable, high levels of education, regardless of the fact they're all highly proficient native speakers, usually with above-average vocabulary. Furthermore, some of them may find it much easier to express themselves in writing than in speaking (or the other way around), which may also impact their aptitude for interpreting.

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answered 20 Jun '16, 06:03

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Joanna
8995513

Hello again Myra45!

As someone who has sat on exam juries for entrance, mid-term, and final exams in 4 countries, I can say that you are correct, there are no objective criteria for judging whether or not a (potential) student's A language is sufficient for the job or not - it is very much subjective.  However, everyone on the jury tends to come to the same conclusion about the same candidates, so it is a collective subjectivity, which makes it much less random.  And quite frankly, while one's A language might be sufficient to get you past the entrance exam jury, it is rare that it will be sufficient to get you through your classes and your final exams without improvement.

What everyone else has written here is all correct:  mastering different registers, precise vocabulary, etc. You will have to be able to speak like a politician, a lawyer, a scientist, a CEO, a CFO, a city planner, a nuclear physicist, an activist in an NGO, etc. etc. etc.

No one expects you to know precise terminology for geology without having prepared for the job. However, we do expect you to be able to follow a line of complex reasoning and express that reasoning precisely, in coherent terms that do not confuse your listener.  Can you explain to someone with no knowledge of your country how to pay taxes?  How pension funds or the medical insurance system work? How to vote?  If you are American (and even if you're not, since it's in the news a lot nowadays), can you explain comprehensibly and in the proper register how the President gets elected?  For you to get your idea across, none of these explanations requires the use of extremely specific vocabulary beyond what you already should know, but they all require precision of expression, without which your audience will be lost. 

No matter how well you understand things, and no matter how well you express them, if you cannot express what you understand in a way that is comprehensible to your audience, your A language is insufficient.

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answered 20 Jun '16, 08:33

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JuliaP
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Hi Julia,

That's exactly my point. You need lots and lots of practice. I know that sometimes it's easier to explain something in long sentences using complex vocabulary than using basic vocabulary and trying to get the point across in only a few phrases. However, why is this skill being described as something that's beyond the ability of most humans?

(20 Jun '16, 12:47) Myra45

I am sorry, but if you haven't yet noticed how badly people write, let alone speak; how ungrammatically they structure their sentences, let alone their thoughts; how fuzzily they think, let alone express those thoughts, then you live somewhere I don't. And these people are journalists, lawyers, politicians, etc., in other words, people who make a living from their oral and written expression. We will be expected to understand them, follow their (il)logic, and put their ideas into another language precisely. If you already can't express yourself with precision, the game is already over.

(20 Jun '16, 12:55) JuliaP

I see everyday that many people, even lawyers and journalists, sometimes don't express themselves clearly. However, I also see many people who do. Obviously interpreters need to express themselves with precision. Again, I understand that one needs extensive training and lots of experience. And that one has to work on their languages on a daily basis. So, why can't someone develop that skill?

(20 Jun '16, 14:04) Myra45
2

So, why can't someone develop that skill?

Maybe you could, maybe you couldn't. But the purpose of a course is not to give everybody a shot, but to admit those who the faculty thinks are the most likely to pass, an opinion often based on half a century of experience and institutionalized guesswork. And even by putting the bar that high at entrance level, many don't graduate, because the bar at the end of the tunnel is set even higher.

Who says that a good interpreters absolutely needs to be have an excellent A to do a good job? The very same people who set the height of the bar.

Either you accept that, or you could go to a less demanding school that will take your ten grand and give you a diploma after a year almost no questions asked. But once you're out of there and will try to get hired and accredited, you'll have some other people sitting on the other side of the table, also convinced that an excellent A is necessary. Maybe by that time yours will be, maybe it won't.

Coming back to your question: If one can develop that skill, why wouldn't that person do so, and take the admission test once they master that skill that is deemed as being the minimum requirement?

(20 Jun '16, 15:56) Gaspar ♦♦

Well said Gaspar.

Myra45, you could possibly develop that skill, but you will need to have at least the seeds of the skill and demonstrate them on the day of your entrance exams.

I remember that my English A and Russian B were considered very good at my entrance exam, but the first time I had to understand something in Russian and transfer it into good English, I did a poor job. At least the teachers knew it was not due either to poor A or B languages, but specifically because I didn't yet have the technique of transferring ideas from one language to another.

(20 Jun '16, 16:11) JuliaP
2

Who says that a good interpreters absolutely needs to be have an excellent A to do a good job?

I'm not disputing this. I agree that your A language should be excellent(however you define it).

Either you accept that, or you could go to a less demanding school that will take your ten grand and give you a diploma after a year almost no questions asked.

I've always accepted that and not just with regards to interpreting. I don't want to go to any school - for any program - that has such low admission standards that it's only too happy to take the money from its students knowing full well that they shouldn't be there. If I can't get into a reputable school, I'd rather not enter the profession at all.

(20 Jun '16, 22:47) Myra45

because I didn't yet have the technique of transferring ideas from one language to another.

So it's a skill that can be learned.

Again, I still don't understand how the A language is evaluated. In one of the other threads I mentioned that I know one person who was told that the A language was "inadequate". They couldn't really explain what needed to be improved. And this is someone who studied English and public relations (and got good grades and other academic awards) at a reputable university in North America, and who also scored above the national average on GRE verbal and writing.

(20 Jun '16, 22:54) Myra45

And until you actually take the test, you still won't. Either you are not formulating your question precisely enough to get exactly the answer you want, or it is something you will never understand until you have been through it, passed, taken your course, passed, had a few years of experience working as an interpreter, and then sat on an exam jury. This isn't the first time we have tried to answer your questions on entrance exams - I repeat what I said last time: take the test and stop worrying so much about it ahead of time. The exam board isn't composed of monsters, we want you to pass - now show us that you have what it takes!

(21 Jun '16, 04:14) JuliaP

Julia,

I remember you saying that I should just take the test and not try to overthink it. The reason I started this thread is because I don't know how I can prepare for this test.

(21 Jun '16, 11:28) Myra45
1

Like I said above: listen to articles, stories, speeches, anything with a logical line of thought, and retell the main story line precisely, with as many details as possible. Explain complex concepts to all your friends so they completely understand. Read articles, essays, etc. by writers and journalists you respect, read them out loud, shadow them... this all has to do with how clearly you think along with how well you use language. If you had asked that precise question first, you might have been spared a long conversation and a lot of frustration.

(21 Jun '16, 12:22) JuliaP

That's what I've been doing for years. Many prospective applicants also practice, and yet it's not enough.

(21 Jun '16, 12:59) Myra45
1

No, in some cases it's not. If anyone could do it, no one would need specialized training courses. Some people are incapable of expressing themselves well enough to be conference interpreters. You must have heard the analogies before, but the fact that you have two legs doesn't mean that you could become an Olympic runner, or the fact that you have two hands doesn't mean that you can become a concert pianist or a surgeon.

Each profession requires certain aptitudes, and those who teach it understand well what they are. You can't argue your way in, because it will lead to wasted time both for you and your teachers, since if they don't think you have the aptitude, you most likely won't get your degree.

So I repeat: take the test somewhere -ANYwhere - experience it yourself, get feedback if you can, and then make a decision. But torturing yourself ahead of time by running around like a hamster in its wheel is not going to help you. To be more precise, only getting off your butt and taking the test will give you the data you need.

(21 Jun '16, 14:57) JuliaP

JuliaP: correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is possible to fail in the entrance exam on your first try, then succeed the next year (or even succeed the same year elsewhere), so it is not as if candidates had only one try.

(21 Jun '16, 15:29) mflorian

Hi Mflorian! You are right, assuming the candidate isn't completely without potential, there isn't any reason to suppose they couldn't test again. Some schools even have a test on general knowledge that weeds out people even before they take the language test.

(21 Jun '16, 16:46) JuliaP
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question asked: 19 Jun '16, 14:45

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last updated: 21 Jun '16, 16:46

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