First-time posters: please review the site's moderation policy
7
2

I have been reading the answers to the question about soft skills in interpreting and to the one about interpreters being made or born and I seem to read between the lines that although interpreting is an acquired skill there is something more to it than what can be taught. It also seems to me that this often comes up in informal discussions with interpreters. So I would like to know: Do you believe there is an x-factor for interpreting skills or aptitude and in that case - is it possible to define what that would be?

asked 11 Apr '12, 17:29

tulkur's gravatar image

tulkur
741238


I think that’s what aptitude researchers are trying to determine, but confirmation of a definitive list of individual skills and traits that are predictive seems elusive. The research being done is showing statistically significant predictors, but a lot of the research is with very small sample sizes, and the aptitude researchers out there are all coming at the issue from slightly different perspectives (some are looking at cognitive abilities - see Brooke Macnamara’s work; others are investigating aspects of personality, for example).

Out of interest, Mariachiara Russo (2011) does a great job of pulling together all the aptitude research from the last 40 years and notes there’s a lot of consistency in terms of agreeing on an ‘ideal’ interpreter profile. Russo goes on to say that the range of expected skills can be generally grouped as

(i) language knowledge and cognitive skills (inc. general mental ability, general and cultural specific knowledge, ideational fluency - verbal & associative fluency etc, working memory);

(ii) interpreting related skills that can be acquired; and

(iii) personality traits.

I think the issue of whether good interpreters are ‘made’ or ‘born’ arises from the fact that some of the required abilities and traits for interpreting are innate - general mental ability for example, and temperament is also enduring, however is not fixed until early adulthood, and some aspects remain malleable. Other factors relevant to becoming an interpreter are ‘trainable’ though...so you need a mixture of the ‘can do’ and the ‘will do’ in people. You can have all the natural gymnastics talent in the world but not the inclination to refine it to the level required to be an elite gymnast, for example. You need to ‘want it’ as well as ‘have it’, right?

Some of the research has thrown up interesting variables that have promise, such as motivation, cognitive flexibility, and learning ability (cf. the work of Sherry Shaw and Sarka Timarova). I personally really like the list of qualities and abilities expected of a prospective interpreter as outlined by AIIC on the AIIC website...I have cut and pasted the list below. I think it’s a decent overall description of some of the cognitive requirements, and it doesn’t neglect the social dimension which is being recognised as increasingly relevant in the current research.

Perhaps the ‘x’ factor isn’t actually an individual skill/knowledge/ability - perhaps the ‘x’ factor is having all of these factors to an efficacious level in one person! :-)

  • a polished command of their own native language over a range of registers and domains
  • a complete mastery of their non-native languages
  • a familiarity with the cultures in the countries where their working languages are spoken
  • a commitment to helping others communicate
  • an interest in and understanding of current affairs, plus an insatiable curiosity
  • world experience away from home and school and a broad general education
  • good training (and usually at least an undergraduate university degree)
  • the ability to concentrate and focus as a discussion unfolds
  • a pleasant speaking voice
  • a friendly, collegial attitude
  • calm nerves, tact, judgment and a sense of humor
  • a willingness to adhere to rules of conduct

If you are interested in the topic of aptitude, a special issue of the journal “Interpreting” was dedicated to aptitude for interpreting, following a conference for aptitude researchers organised by Lessius University College & University of North Florida, and held at Lessius in Belgium in May 2009. Seven of the papers presented at the aptitude symposium were later published in the journal. The link to the table of contents in the special issue journal is here:

http://benjamins.com/#catalog/journals/intp.13.1/toc

permanent link

answered 13 Apr '12, 20:48

KarenB's gravatar image

KarenB
58233

edited 14 Apr '12, 01:50

Angela's gravatar image

Angela ♦
3.2k82448

Thank you, Karen, for the very exhaustive answer. I agree that it's probably more a combination of things rather than one single X. I attended the aptitude conference in Antwerp, and hoping for a second one. I still find it interesting that many seem to refer to something x-factor or innate like. I'm also thinking about whether how you see your skill affects the way you practice.

(19 Apr '12, 12:54) tulkur

I would suggest associative thinking. The more associations an interpreter can make at any given moment, the better. And associative thinking is fast, which is good for the work we do. The link to the more logical thinking we use when interpreting is general knowledge. To me it seems that general knowledge underlies the best-known interpreting theories/models. The more GK we have packed away in long term memory, the more possible associations we can conjure up. Of course one must monitor to make sure one hasn't jumped from apples to oranges, but that is another way of saying that we fit associative thinking into the set of interpreting skills that we learn during training and hone in our professional practice, and we employ it within a framework of general and procedural knowledge.

Associative thinking is also closely linked to improvisation, a 'soft skill' that I cited under that thread.

So if an 'x-factor' is something unexplainable or at least hard to describe, associative thinking fits the bill for me.

permanent link

answered 11 Apr '12, 18:07

Luigi's gravatar image

Luigi
2.0k61623

edited 11 Apr '12, 18:12

I fully agree that associative thinking is of the essence. And I would add that the other unexplainable something is very much related to personality traits. There is no doubt of the interplay between individual personality traits and job performance. And, for me, THE personality trait that can be considered the "X factor" impacting the most on achievement is emotional stability (control of anxiety and neuroticism).

permanent link

answered 11 Apr '12, 20:35

Vero's gravatar image

Vero
8318819

...well, neurological research tells us that left-handed ladies who've started learning their second-language before age 4 may well make for the best potential interpreters :-).

This age-old question always makes me ponder that our collective (rightfull!) insistence on training should not bar us from admitting that there is such an un-democratic thing as talent: if I may be pardoned the simile, we don't really believe that Einstein and his brother John Doe, brought up as siblings and given the exact same training, would both have come up with E=mc2, do we? ;-)

In a nutshell, I've always believed that very good, solid interpreters are made, but excellent interpreters are indeed born...and of course training only makes them more so.

permanent link

answered 13 Apr '12, 20:13

msr's gravatar image

msr
4.6k6923

edited 13 Apr '12, 20:14

There is an X-factor for every profession. We all have talent for something else. It is a mixture of innate skills, personality trait and attitude. But surely innate skills can be developed further and the combination of innate skills and related education makes the true professional. We should all strive for continuous personal and professional development .

Also experience and a knowledge of general affairs are very important and these together with the right training may tip the scales. It is important that even interpreters to whom it comes naturally keep on improving the skills that mother nature gave them.

permanent link

answered 13 Dec '14, 15:29

Samiha%20P's gravatar image

Samiha P
201

absolutely... and don't forget practice. You have to have talent, but you also have to cultivate it.

(14 Dec '14, 01:20) Andy

“Experience always sum”. That is the expression I would use to describe the process that forges an interpreter.

The route to become an interpreter is a combination of skills acquired at different stages of life. Some interpreters develop a number of of these potential abilities earlier and informally while others get them through study in the course of a professionalizing process at a later time. I don’t believe in the X factor. However, I admit that some circumstances might be valuable in the configuration of the mental speech conversion procedure.

Certainly, growing in an intercultural or multilingual environment might benefit the acquisition of certain linguistics skills as well as having bilingual parents as a child. These situations can be a valuable contribution for some of the potential interpreters.

However, such condition do not create interpreters per se nor induce all people to the profession; otherwise, million of Canadians would be interpreters since a large number of the population meet those characteristics.

However, I would say the sooner those skills are achieved the better! Nevertheless, the same applies for every single profession, doesn’t it? Experience facilitates the way to success. On the other hand, trained interpreters have a better domain on techniques when compared to bilingual individuals Hickey (1997). The process of converting and conveying a message is as complex as bilingualism itself.

In short becoming an interpreter is similar to assembling a jigsaw where the interest of the game is not determining where all pieces came from but having them available to complete the task and developing strategies to improve performance.

permanent link

answered 18 Jun '14, 14:52

Eguillent's gravatar image

Eguillent
202

edited 18 Jun '14, 15:11

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck ♦♦
3.9k193350

“Experience always sum”. That is the expression I would use to describe the process that forges an interpreter. The route to become an interpreter is a combination of skills acquired at different stages of life. Some interpreters develop a number of of these potential abilities earlier and informally while others get them through study in the course of a professionalizing process at a later time. I don’t believe in the X factor. However, I admit that some circumstances might be valuable in the configuration of the mental speech conversion procedure. Certainly, growing in an intercultural or multilingual environment might benefit the acquisition of certain linguistics skills as well as having bilingual parents as a child. These situations can be a valuable contribution for some of the potential interpreters. However, such condition do not create interpreters per se nor induce all people to the profession; otherwise, million of Canadians would be interpreters since a large number of the population meet those characteristics. However, I would say the sooner those skills are achieved the better! Nevertheless, the same applies for every single profession, doesn’t it? Experience facilitates the way to success. On the other hand, trained interpreters have a better domain on techniques when compared to bilingual individuals Hickey (1997). The process of converting and conveying a message is as complex as bilingualism itself. In short becoming an interpreter is similar to assembling a jigsaw where the interest of the game is not determining where all pieces came from but having them available to complete the task and developing strategies to improve performance.

permanent link

answered 18 Jun '14, 14:52

Eguillent's gravatar image

Eguillent
202

There is an X-factor for every one human. Everyone have talent and innate skills. I believe that innate skills can be developed and everyone have this opportunities. I believe that we need to have luck too. Professional is a human with combination of innate skills and related education. We should strive for continuous continuously professional development (CPD).You are this whatever is your strong inner desire, so - such are your deeds and destiny.

Actually not a bad idea to have a TV program XLinguistic-factor for interpreters and translators.

permanent link

answered 23 Jun '15, 13:34

Iliyana%20Georgieva%20Pinkney's gravatar image

Iliyana Geor...
11

Your answer
toggle preview

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here

By RSS:

Answers

Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text](http://url.com/ "title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported

Question tags:

×142
×11
×6
×2
×1

question asked: 11 Apr '12, 17:29

question was seen: 11,546 times

last updated: 23 Jun '15, 13:34

interpreting.info is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

about | faq | terms of use | privacy policy | content policy | disclaimer | contact us

This collaborative website is sponsored and hosted by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters.