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Hello everyone.

I jokingly say English is not "a" language because there are so many kinds of English. I have difficulties in most time with non-native English speakers. Sometimes their accents are are to apprehend. Worse, some of them speak grammatically incorrect English.

These days many people can speak and understand English. So, clients' expectation is going up. In this regard, I believe interpreters need to train themselves for non-native English speakers for better and more accurate interpretation service (if you have English in your language composition).

I use YouTube and Ted to familiarize myself with those speakers. But, I'm wondering whether there are better ways to train myself.

I'm looking forward to advice from seasoned interpreters.

Thanks in advance for your answer.

asked 26 Sep '15, 09:22

KORENG's gravatar image



This is a thorny issue, as it is impolitic to let on that a speaker speaks less than perfectly! Also, there are native accents of English (as well as any other language) that can be pretty incomprehensible to foreigners. Quite frankly, my own native American speakers who are less used to being interpreted can be a total nightmare - fast and idiomatic. So yes, I think training your ear by listening as much as possible to non-native speakers or to speakers with less familiar accents is a great idea.

TED and YouTube are excellent sources of speeches by all sorts of people, including fast Americans. I also would recommend the radio, as you can get stations from all over the world, and may have programs in different versions of a language. For the case of English, I highly recommend BBC Radio 4. This station broadcasts all sorts of speakers of English, including native speakers not trying to be understood by the radio audience - try listening to an edition of Question Time! Those answering a question are usually good speakers, but you can never be certain about those asking them. And talk radio would also include a wide range of expression. Plus, it is easy to listen to radio in the background, and get used to understanding passively - this was one of our assignments in interpreting school, and it certainly trains your ear.

As to the non-accent issues, like grammar, syntax, the music of the language, all of this can destroy meaning as well. Beyond listening as much as possible to bad speakers, which you won't find on TED, you could try exercises where you work things out from context. Sergio Viaggio had a brilliant exercise where he took a speech and blanked out one word every few words, each bearing some important type of meaning - for example, in the sentence "a car weighs about 1.5 ....." - would that be kilos, tons, times the weight of an elephant? Or a car weighs about .... tons" - you have to know how the world works, and what types of arguments would be used so that you may reconstruct the meaning that was destroyed by bad grammar, emphasis, etc.

I could also recommend reading complex versions of the language, and trying to extract the meaning without looking up every word. Listen to, or read, speeches written in English of 40, 50, 100 years ago. The language has changed a lot, and how we use it has also changed. Good speakers spoke in a much more complex style in the past. If you become used to hearing more complex syntax and extracting the meaning, then you can hear tortured syntax and still be able to reason out what the speaker said.

And of course, context is everything. If you know how the world works, and the basic principles of law, sciences, politics, then everything suddenly becomes much easier, even when the speaker is incomprehensible.

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answered 13 Oct '15, 19:05

JuliaP's gravatar image


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question asked: 26 Sep '15, 09:22

question was seen: 3,387 times

last updated: 13 Oct '15, 19:05 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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