Getting Real with Translation & Interpreting

This post originally appeared on the Language Magazine blog and it is republished with permission.

Caitilin Walsh suggests 11 resources to bring Translation and Interpreting to life in your online classroom

In an educational landscape so dominated by talk of STEM—purportedly to prepare our students for technologically-influenced jobs—world language teachers are under constant pressure to defend their departments.

This sits in stark contrast to the widening “global talent gap,” a term coined in a report from ACTFL to describe the missed business opportunities reported by a quarter of U.S.-based employers who are unable to hire enough people with advanced language proficiency. Even the seismic shifts of maturing artificial intelligence and a global pandemic have not stemmed growing demand, and we see well-paid translation and interpreting (T&I) jobs continue to increase at a much faster rate than others. We desperately need people to fill these jobs.

For world language departments, this is good news: Being able to make the case to students for a potentially attractive career motivates them to continue their language studies (with the bonus of parental buy-in), increasing demand for courses beyond the first two years, while service learning, language for specific purposes, and study abroad take on new meaning.

Some schools have already connected these dots and are working to provide students with the language proficiency and “soft” skills they need to get a leg up on a career in T&I. If you’re uncertain about how to bring T&I into your world language classroom, relax. Whether you’re looking for content for a standalone T&I course or activities to keep beginning interpreting students busy, or even just trying to figure out how to engage your AP class when they can’t concentrate on yet another Zoom class, there are some quality resources online that are easily adapted for your virtual or in-person classroom.

The Basics: Exploring Language Careers

We already know that high school-aged students are actively thinking about careers and looking for pathways to get them there. So, it’s a perfect age to expose them to things they can do with their language (and other) skills and passions—and that knowledge may motivate them to seek advanced language skills, which means more enrollment in upper-level courses (and a corresponding wave of demand for post-secondary advanced language courses). I often suggest using these short videos to frame discussions around what skills T&I professionals need in addition to language—it’s fun to challenge your students to think of a domain where language services are not needed (I haven’t found one yet!):

  • A Day in the Life of a Translator or Interpreter (2 minutes) An animated short presenting how interpreters and translators work: a great overview that starts with the difference between interpreting and translation.
  • Interpreters and Translators Making a Difference (3 minutes) A short video that features professionals, many of them heritage language speakers; these students in particular need to know the value of their bilingualism.
  • How Interpreters Juggle Two Languages at Once A five-minute animated description of how simultaneous interpreters listen and speak at the same time (spoiler: the answer is practice!). As a bonus, this TED-Ed video also provides study guides and other educator material, which can be used with this and other videos.
  • United Nations, A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters (8 minutes) A short film by Sidney Pollack as a companion to the feature film The Interpreter that offers a glimpse into the world of conference interpreting.
  • Interpreter Breaks Down How Real-time Translation Works (9 minutes) WIRED uses real interpreters to break down how interpreting works in this very entertaining and accessible video. If you have advanced Spanish speakers, there’s a second video in the series where they challenge the same interpreters with awesome speed tests.

The Deeper Dive: Learning from Professionals

Of course, one of the most effective ways to deal with a topic you may not specialize in is to bring in an expert. The American Translators Association (ATA) has an established program that brings practicing translators and interpreters into classrooms—at all levels! Over its 20-year history, they’ve sent professionals to preschools and elementary schools, and from undergrad to graduate classes around the globe. Since they’re not able to show up in person, they can set you up with someone via the videoconferencing application of your choice so students can pepper them with questions about how much money you can make (an average of $50-60k) to whether machine translation will render humans obsolete (nope!). In addition, there are a couple of longer videos to give you different perspectives on professional translating and interpreting careers:

  • ATA Presents Careers in Translation and Interpreting (1 hour) If you can’t get a “live” person to talk to your class, this video follows the outline of the ATA School Outreach program mentioned above. It’s aimed at secondary levels and above.If you’re looking for a more academic focus, they have a webinar, Careers in Translation and Interpreting (and what to do to have one, 53 minutes) that’s aimed at college students.
  • Interpretips An entire YouTube channel devoted to topics related to interpreting, from community and medical to courts and beyond. Playlists also group videos by topic. A great resource if you want to explore specific areas of interpreting; ethics are particularly appealing to this idealistic generation. Many of the featured speakers have also authored guides that may be useful textbooks for your classroom.

The Test Drive: Let students try it for themselves

Another engaging way to bring interpreting into the classroom is to allow students to take a stab at it themselves! Not only do students get to try out their budding language abilities, but it can also serve as a springboard for self-reflection, class or small group discussion, or even a way to introduce a several-week unit on interpreter skills building. Students often surprise themselves with how much they can do and will often be motivated to shore up weaknesses—in both their source and target languages. Try these resources:

This list is only the beginning: many more resources used to prepare interpreters and translators for certification are freely available, and most professional associations have libraries of webinars available for a nominal fee.

Caitilin Walsh is a professional French-English translator specializing in education, software, and gastronomy. A past president of the American Translators Association, which represents more than 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries, Caitilin works on a national scale to create and illuminate educational pathways for World Language students seeking to use their skills in rewarding careers.

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