Section 6 - Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting is also known as dialogue interpreting. In this mode, the interpreter listens to the message in the source language and interprets it in the target language so that both speakers, who do not speak a common language, can effectively communicate. Each speaker pauses while the interpreter interprets.

Consecutive interpreting is normally done in court to interpret witness testimony when the witness does not speak the language of the court. Consecutive interpreting gives the interpreter more time to analyse and convert the message before delivery. However, court proceedings interpreted in the consecutive mode take up to three times longer than proceedings in English or French alone.

When do you interpret consecutively in court?

You will interpret in the consecutive mode when interpreting for a witness at the witness stand. You may also have to interpret in this mode in every court proceeding when the judge poses a question directly to an accused, as in a sentencing hearing.

What will be tested?

The consecutive interpreting portion of the test consists of the testimony of a non-English speaker who is questioned in English by counsel. It contains about 1,000 words.

You will hear both the English and the test language and you will be required to interpret the English into the test language and the test language into English. Each spoken segment is followed by a silent gap, long enough for you to complete the interpretation. If you are not finished translating when a new segment starts, you should pay attention to the new segment. Long questions and/or answers will be broken up into shorter segments from 10 to 50 words long. Your interpretation into both languages will be recorded for grading.

The consecutive interpreting exercise will take about 20 minutes.

Practicing consecutive interpreting

This manual contains three pre-recorded practice dialogues for consecutive interpreting with pauses between segments to allow you time for interpretation, along with their written dialogues and a list of scoring units for the first dialogue.

The dialogues are entirely in English - although, in court, the witness would be speaking in the test language.

Your initial consecutive interpreting practice, therefore, will be from English into the test language. However, to practice interpreting from the test language into English, record your initial consecutive interpretation into the test language and then interpret that back into English.

For additional consecutive interpreting practice, you will need to find dialogues, preferably court related, and record them, with pauses between segments for interpretation, prior to practice.

You will need two recording devices during the practice sessions: one to listen to the pre-recorded exercises and the other to record your performance.

If you do not have access to two recording devices, another person can read the passages aloud and your recording device can record your performance.

To practice consecutive interpreting, follow the eight stages (each including several steps) identified below.

Stage 1: Preparation for consecutive interpreting

  • Have a notepad and a pen ready.
  • Start the audio file of the source text dialogue. You should listen to the audio file using earphones. If you do not have two recording devices, another person may read the source text aloud.
  • Start the voice recorder. You will record your interpretation using this device. You do not need to use a headset because you will be recording in blank spaces.

Stage 2: Initial consecutive interpreting

  • Listen attentively to the first segment. Take any notes you think are necessary for recall - names, dates, numbers - but do not let note-taking distract you from careful listening.
  • When there is a pause in the dialogue, interpret segment 1 into the target language. You may use your notes, if necessary.
  • Repeat these steps for each segment, until you complete the last segment.
  • Stop the audio file and the voice recorder.

Stage 3: Comparison of initial consecutive interpreting with recorded source text dialogue

  • Replay the source text dialogue from the beginning. Listen carefully again to the first segment. You may listen to the segment as often as necessary to grasp its meaning and take notes. Stop the audio file before moving on to the following step.
  • Start your own voice recording at the beginning. Listen carefully to your interpretation of segment 1 and compare it with the first segment of the source text dialogue. Note all the elements of meaning that you have missed. Also note any poor expression in the target language.
  • Repeat these steps for each segment, until you reach the last segment.

Stage 4: Comparison of initial consecutive interpreting with written text of dialogue

This stage helps if there are parts of the recorded source text dialogue that you have not heard well.

  • Start the voice recorder at the beginning of your interpretation.
  • Read the first segment in the written text and compare your interpretation against it. Underline in the written text the words, expressions and segments that appear to be wrong.
  • Repeat this step for each segment, until you complete the last segment.

Stage 5: Analysis and resolution of problems

  • Examine the notes you have taken during Stages 3 and 4 and analyse any words, expressions and segments that you missed or think are wrong. Try to determine why they caused you problems.
    Was it because:
    • you did not understand the word or expression?
    • you did not know the equivalent?
    • you did not remember something that was said earlier?
  • Think of ways you can correct these mistakes. Do any basic research required.

While some dictionary consultation may be necessary, avoid looking up too many words in dictionaries at this point. In actual situations, you may not have an opportunity to consult a dictionary during consecutive interpreting; so you should not rely on a dictionary for too much help during practice of consecutive interpreting. Try to understand source language words and expressions using the context (i.e. the surrounding text). Try to express the concepts using a phrase in the target language if a specific word does not come to mind.

Stage 6: Checking scoring units

  • If you are working on a consecutive dialogue with scoring units provided, review them at this stage. Listen again to your recorded consecutive interpretation, paying particular attention to the scoring units indicated. Note the units you got correct. Determine how to correct those you got wrong.
  • If you are working on a consecutive dialogue which does not have scoring units provided, examine the written dialogue and underline words and phrases that could be considered scoring units. Then listen again to your recorded consecutive interpretation, paying particular attention to those words and phrases. Note the units you got correct. Determine how to correct those you got wrong.

Stage 7: Final consecutive interpreting

  • Redo the consecutive interpreting following all of the steps of stage 2, and try to deliver a more accurate and smoother interpretation of the dialogue.

Stage 8: Comparison of final consecutive interpreting with written text of dialogue

  • Repeat all the steps of Stage 4.
  • Note improvements in comparison with the initial consecutive interpreting.

At the end of the exercise, you should use a dictionary or term bank to find equivalents for key words that you did not know, and you should memorize them for future use.

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