Fill in the blanks exercise – Islamic art

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file – Islamic art

This is quite a challenging text. You will need to draw on your background knowledge and logic, as well as your English skills, to fill in the blanks successfully.

You can find the recording here.

Discussion

I won’t go through every blank, but I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of the blanks where there were several possible solutions.

  • depictions of the prophet Muhammad are……. in Islam: you could say forbidden, or banned, prohibited.
  • The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how …….., is widely …….. today . There are many ways to complete this sentence, especially as it is ambiguous: does the adjective following ‘no matter how’ refer to ‘images of the prophet’, or to ‘prohibition’? Depending on what you think, you could say ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how innocuous, is widely accepted’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how harmless, is widely criticised today’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how dangerous, is widely accepted today’. You need to think carefully about what has been said so far, and your background knowledge about this issue.
  • there is no such …….. in the Qur’an: this could be instruction, or prohibition, ban, or edict.
  • Islam was the only common …..: could be religion, factor, or denominator.
  • ruling elites ……. Islam as a binding agent: there are several solutions, depending on meaning. You could say used or exploited; or fastened on tolatched on to; or saw, perceived.
  • decade of economic pain and social …..: this could be decline, problems, tensions, or fracture.

Speech transcript

Here’s the transcript of the speech. I have highlighted the missing words in bold.

Though we often hear that depictions of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden in Islam, artworks bearing his image can be found in museums in Europe and the United States. And he is in many carefully curated private collections of Islamic art, appearing from time to time in the catalogues of prestigious auction houses when these artworks change hands.

The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how anodyne, is widely accepted today – but, as these examples show, it is a distinctly modern edict. The religious justification for the ban is far less clear than its proponents believe: there is no such instruction in the Qur’an. There is, of course, a pre-Islamic aversion to idol worship shared by all the monotheistic religions, and over the centuries this aversion gradually wore away depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art. But this was only a prelude to the modern charge of blasphemy – which arrived only in the 20th century, after the Muslim world had fractured into nation-states.

The modern majority-Muslim nation-state is a weak and unwieldy creature. Across Africa and south Asia, colonial forces lumped together disparate tribes and languages, drew boundary lines around them, and then abruptly decamped to Europe. For many citizens of these new nations, Islam was the only common denominator. In the absence of any coherent political programme beyond the maintenance of their own power, ruling elites fastened on to Islam as a binding agent. From there it was an easy step to pick out some sacred icons, such as the image of the prophet, and to draw arbitrary theological red lines, useful for dispensing with political opponents. The story of blasphemy in contemporary Islam isn’t about doctrine. It is about decline and dictatorship.

There is a lesson in this tale for all of us: the more that a society is preoccupied with its symbols, the more insecure it has become. In the UK, the Conservative government and its court press have seized upon the veneration of national symbols as a consolation for a decade of economic pain and social fracture.

And then, of course, there is the flag, the latest icon to be invested with a sanctity that demands it be flown longer and larger. The government has decreed that after the summer the flag should fly over official buildings every day rather than 20 days a year. No longer is it just jolly bunting on special occasions. This is the endpoint of a journey that began when Nigel Farage took a small union flag and placed it in front of him at the European parliament. In all its absurdity, that moment comes closest to representing what the flag has come to symbolise today – a false but potent claim of liberation from fictional oppressive forces.

Over the past few months, Tory MPs have tried to burnish their political credentials by posturing more and more aggressively about the flag, demanding that it be compulsory in all schools (and that anyone who has concerns can be “educated” into compliance). It is an even shorter distance between that public, official intimidation and private citizens taking matters into their own hands. Earlier this year, one mayor in Cornwall received death threats for removing flags that had been put up without the council’s permission.

“You can’t eat a flag,” said John Hume, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. When Muslim countries erupt with rage over images of Muhammad, I see governments who cannot feed their people, or provide them with dignity or democratic rights, so they feed them false pride instead. The images we see on the news from Cairo or Khartoum of protests against cartoons or authors, are pictures of astroturfed anger, whipped up and bussed into town squares in government vehicles. Some of that anger seeps into corners that then become impossible to scrub. The worship of icons, whether flags or statues, may seem like a harmless performance on the part of a government that has little else to offer. But behind it lurks the threat of something much more sinister.

I hope you enjoyed this exercise!

Fill in the blanks exercise – education for girls

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file of the speech

You can find the file here.

Discussion

I won’t go through the whole text; you can check the missing words in the transcript below if you like.

I thought it would be useful to go through just a few of the missing words, when there were several possible solutions.

  • the near-insurmountable …….. facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions: this could be challenges, but also obstacles, hurdles, difficulties, or even problems, if you couldn’t think of anything better.
  • Her story ……. that of millions of girls around the world: this could be mirrors, or perhaps echoes, or simply is similar to.
  • There is a need to ……stronger policies to ……. progress: the first gap could be devise, or develop, propose, plan, implement, push through, support. The second gap could be stimulate, boost, speed up.

Transcript of the speech

I’ve highlighted the missing words in bold.

Bright-eyed and clever, a young girl from a small village in Malawi shares her wish for a better life. From her confines, up early in the morning, cleaning and cooking, eating last, marrying young, she has little chance for school, much less a future with a career.

“Give me a chance,” she says disarmingly, “and I’ll take it from there.” The three-minute video, produced by Plan International, a UK-based global advocacy group on children, tells the story of the near-insurmountable challenges facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions, including many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.  Her story mirrors that of millions of girls around the world whose prospects are severely limited because they cannot finish school.

According to the 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report, a United Nations annual report that tracks progress towards achieving the MDGs, some 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were out of school in 2012.  While the situation varies from country to country and between rural and urban areas, overall 56% of the out-of-school children are girls

There is no doubt that a concerted global push for universal education has narrowed the gender gap in primary school enrolment between 2001 and 2008, says UNESCO, the UN agency on education and culture. Over the past seven years, however, the gap appears to have remained the same, according to the report. Pervasive poverty and persistent cultural attitudes, including forced early marriages and child labour, continue to be the main obstacles to girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa. 

 “Poverty lies at the heart of many of the challenges that hinder girls’ access to education. The pressures of poverty mean that parents must constantly make decisions about how to utilize extremely limited resources and how best to provide a secure future for their family,”

Poor families, mostly in rural areas, are forced to send boys to school while keeping the girls at home helping with chores in the belief that chores are sufficient lessons for girls to learn how to keep a family. Even as more girls are enrolled in primary schools, their chances of dropping out continue to be greater than boys’. Girls may be withdrawn from school by parents for reasons linked not only to costs but to unwanted pregnancy.

There is a need to devise stronger policies to revive progress. UNESCO and UNICEF are recommending that countries focus on “broad investment to strengthen and expand education systems, a sharp focus on improving the quality of education on offer and targeted interventions for the children who are the very hardest to reach.” 

In a joint report, the two agencies said the priority should be to ensure that even the most vulnerable and disadvantaged girl has access to a school close to home—a school that meets her most basic needs for safety, privacy and cleanliness. 

I hope you enjoyed the exercise!

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

An improvisation exercise to help you talk about time pressure

In this exercise, you will produce a short speech (5-10 minutes) using several idioms or phrases related to time.

I am providing you with a scenario to use for inspiration, but you are of course free to adapt it, expand it, alter it, or whatever you like!

Ban on single use plastics in the UK

Background reading:

article in the Guardian

article from the Independent

Article about time (see below).

Scene-setting for your speech:

You are a campaigner for a ban on plastic items such as drinks stirrers, straws, and cotton buds. You welcome the UK’s announcement that it plans to ban these items, but you believe we need to go much further and look at legislation to tackle all forms of plastic packaging.

Prepare an introduction to your speech, giving your background, the current legal situation, and any other background you think is relevant.

Choose Option 1 OR Option 2.

Option 1: time is short, and time has been wasted

Explain why it is urgent that this ban come about soon. Use several idioms and phrases to indicate the urgency of the situation, and back up your points with some facts and figures (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Point out that the UK could have acted much faster in proposing legislation on this matter, and will now have to make up for lost time. See if you can come up with some reasons for the delay.

Option 2: this proposal comes just in time; the EU legislation will be too late

Explain why this proposal comes just in time – because the EU is about to legislate, but the EU legislation will be too late for Brexit-related transposition into UK law. At least if the UK legislates now, it will keep in step with EU environmental legislation.

Use several idioms and phrases related to time, and some facts and figures to back up the urgency of the situation (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Conclusion

Conclude your speech with a call to action about future, broader, legislation on plastics in general.

Vocabulary assistance: how to talk about…time

Here are some tips to help you talk about time: time passing, time being short, getting things done in time, etc. etc.

The time is ripe

Here is a collection of phrases to express the idea that it’s the right time, or perhaps past time, to get something done:

It’s about time… Curiously, this can mean either that something needs to happen immediately, or that it is now happening, but should have been done sooner.

It’s about time the government provided more funding for mental health services.

It’s about time they tied the knot – they’ve been together for 17 years!

It’s high time…. This phrase is synonymous with ‘about time’ (see above), but a little more emphatic.

There’s no time like the present! The meaning of this phrase is ‘now’, ‘immediately’.

‘When would you like me to start working on the project?’ ‘There’s no time like the present!’

The time is ripe for… means the time is right, the timing is good.

The time is ripe for a remake of this classic film.

Being short of time

Let’s imagine you’re interpreting at a meeting, and the agenda is very long. The Chairman might say one or all of the following:

  • I’m just keeping one eye on the clock, because we have a lot to get through this morning.
  • Time flies! It’s already 11 o’clock, so we need to wrap up this point.
  • Time is marching on, and we need to move on to the next agenda item.
  • We’re short of time today, so we’ll have to come back to this proposal next week.
  • We’re a little pressed for time, I’m afraid. Perhaps we could discuss this bilaterally.
  • In the interests of saving time, I won’t read out the whole document.

What if there is a sense of urgency about a proposal/piece of legislation/action on the part of the authorities? Try:

  • Time is of the essence with this proposal: it will be discussed at the Plenary in a fortnight, so we need your written comments by Monday evening.
  • There’s no time to lose. We need to act immediately.
  • We’re in a race against time. Our competitors are ready to move on this, so we need to make our offer immediately.
  • The emergency services are working against the clock to reach earthquake survivors under the rubble.
  • It’s crunch time! Something needs to be done urgently.
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If time has been lost for some reason (delays, illness of the project leader, documents lost in the post…), you might say:

  • We’re working around the clock now, to make up for lost time.

If there is no great urgency, you might say:

  • All in good time. We don’t want to be too hasty.
  • We have all the time in the world, as there’s no deadline.

Just in time

If something was done/adopted/achieved at the last possible moment, you can use the following phrases:

  • at the eleventh hour: The Parliament was still proposing changes to the Bill at the eleventh hour.
  • in the nick of time: We arrived at the airport in the nick of time; the flight was just about to start boarding.

If it’s too late, you might say:

  • Better late than never!

Miscellaneous

    • in no time means ‘very quickly’: the revised proposal was ready in no time.
    • to make good time refers to a journey, and means it took less time than expected. We’ve made good time, so we can afford to stop for lunch before hitting the motorway.
    • ahead of its time means radical, innovative (for the time): The play explored ideas about prejudice and tolerance in a way that was ahead of its time. The company was ahead of its time in its employment practices.
    • before my time means before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand. Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax? That was all before my time.
    • to buy time means to delay an event so as to improve your own position in the meantime. I bought some time by telling my supervisor I was ill. He postponed the essay deadline by two days. 
    • to call it a day means to stop for the day, even if you haven’t finished what you’re doing. OK, we still haven’t covered Item 5 on the agenda, but it’s 6 o’clock and we’re all tired. Let’s call it a day and reconvene tomorrow morning.
    • in time vs on time. What’s the difference? ‘On time’ means at the pre-arranged time, e.g. The meeting began on time, at 9 o’clock. ‘In time’ means before a deadline, before something begins: he arrived in time for the beginning of the meeting. He turned up just in time for the beginning of the speech. Imagine a meeting that begins at 9 with a presentation by an invited speaker, but the speaker starts a few minutes late. You could say: I didn’t arrive on time, but I was in time for the presentation.

Last few…

To stand the test of time means to remain popular or in force for a long time.

  • The US Constitution has stood the test of time.
  • Few pop songs of the 2000s will stand the test of time.

Time will tell is an incredibly useful phrase. Will a proposal be adopted following a round the amendments? Will the public support a groundbreaking idea? Will Donald Trump be booted out? Will the UK really leave the EU? Time will tell.

I haven’t mentioned it so far, but the adjective timely can prove useful. It means ‘happening at the best possible moment’ and can be a good translation for words like ‘opportun’ in French, for example.

  • The protests in London at the weekend were a timely reminder that this is still a controversial issue.
  • The change in the exchange rate provided a timely boost to the company’s falling profits.
  • Your comments on the proposal are very timely. We’ll amend the text as soon as possible, since the deadline is next week.

Finally, don’t forget a week is a long time in politics.

E4T taster: time-saving materials to polish your English

E4T taster

English: an essential part of many interpreters’ language combinations.

And English is all around us, so it should be easy to maintain….right?

Well…maybe you’re so used to hearing Globish at work that you struggle when Irish, British, American, Indian, or Kenyan speakers take the floor.

Or maybe the multitude of different accents and variants of English you hear is stressful when you’re interpreting.

Or perhaps you can access plenty of suitable practice material, but you’re short of time and you’d like a shortcut.

A few months ago, I launched a new series of modules focusing on English, along with my colleagues Catriona Howard and Kirsten Coope.

We’ve had some great feedback about the materials (called E4T: English for Interpreters), which are intended to give you a helping hand with improving your English C (or B!); but we’ve also had questions about how to make the most of the materials, and what the content of the modules actually consists of.

I thought it might be nice to give you an E4T taster, with a peek behind the scenes of several modules, along with some tips on how you can make the most of the content.

What’s in each module?

Each module typically contains:

  • 3 tailor-made practice speeches, prepared by yours truly, Catriona, and Kirsten, on the topic of the month. Each video is captioned and comes with a full transcript. You’ll also find a short introduction and some terminology that you can choose to research before tackling the speech, or to ignore if you’d rather tackle it without preparation.
  • 3 carefully selected ‘real life’ speeches representing a variety of accents and viewpoints. These could be panel debates, TED talks, interviews, lectures, etc. Again, we give a brief introduction, some terminology, and often some guidance on how to tackle the speech – or a suggested focus.
  • a reading exercise (often, this is a reading comprehension), based on a relevant article or paper.
  • a listening exercise; this could be based on one of the practice speeches, or a podcast or lecture. The exercise might be a listening comprehension or some other exercise to practise analysis, for instance.
  • a note-taking exercise to practise note-taking technique or symbols.
  • a ‘resources’ section with more suggestions for audio or video practice material and further background reading.
  • an Excel glossary template containing key terminology, vocabulary that comes up in the speeches, and any relevant idioms.

We’ve tried hard to reflect a variety of viewpoints and accents in each module, and to cover the key terminology that you need to know in order to interpret successfully.

Oh, a very important point: if you decide to purchase one of the modules, you will have indefinite, on demand access.

This is not the kind of material that you can only access for 6 months or a year; you can dip in an out of the modules whenever you like – your access is permanent (as long as my website continues to exist!).

Now, what can you do with all of this? The answer will partly depend on whether your English is a C or a B language.

If your English is a C

Here are some ideas:

  • fill in the glossary templates with your A language equivalents and learn the vocabulary.
  • Use the caption function to check your understanding of a tricky speech.
  • If you struggled with sections of a speech, read the transcript afterwards.
  • Use all the consecutive speeches for note-taking practice.
  • Improve your background knowledge by going through the additional resources.
  • Prepare for an exam by going through all the materials, in the order they are given (roughly in order of difficulty).
  • Prepare for a mock conference, volunteer gig or assignment by practising with the simultaneous speeches.

Here’s a taster of a reading exercise, from the circular economy module.

Sample reading exercise – circular economy

“Read through the speech transcript provided and find different ways of expressing the words/ phrases listed below in the text. If you would like to take it a step further, or are working on an English B, why not come up with a third (or fourth!) option. I have provided some suggestions in the answer table below. As it is quite a long list, I have split the exercise in two. The first section takes you up to:  “Through an ambitious new biodiversity framework, under which commitments are made and actions taken by the whole of government, economy and society.”.

You may also like to spend some time producing a version of the speech in your mother tongue. Approach the task as if it were an interpretation (i.e. don’t produce a translation) but take the time to come up with idiomatic solutions in your mother tongue that really reflect the nuance of the original.

There is plenty of useful climate-related vocab in the text too, especially in the second half. Oh and finally, in case you spot it, the correct word is “disproportionately” not “disproportionally”!”

The speech transcript is here.

EXPRESSION USED IN TEXTYOUR SUGGESTIONS (in your mother tongue and/or in English)
Section 1
Moments which test us
Most people can’t help thinking of
shrunk
is just one manifestation of
deteriorating state
completely reconfigure
main cause of
our only choice is to
are being implemented
speeding towards
the crux of the matter is
predominantly
ambitious targers
crucial for
production
domestic
throw away
limited resources
modify our behaviour
Section 2
further developing
extract
strained
results effects
are ongoing
amounted to
is developing
a significant barrier
encourage
gradually eliminating
transferring
open up
be successful in the longer term
phase out their activities
incorporating

EXPRESSION USED IN TEXTYOUR SUGGESTIONS (in your mother tongue and/or in English)
Section 1
Moments which test ustrying timesdifficult/tough periods
Most people can’t help thinking ofminds turn tomost people’s first thought is
shrunkcontractedgot smaller
is just one manifestation ofis but one symptom ofis only one sign of
deteriorating stateailing healthworsening condition
completely reconfigureradically altercompletely transform/drastically reshape/improve significantly
main cause ofcore driver
No good here here but I couldn’t help stick in “engine of change” as an expression/ collocation.)
our only choice is towe have no option but towe must
are being implemented are coming online (I particularly dislike this expression, though it’s very common!)are coming into force
speeding towardshurtling towardsheading at full speed/advancing or moving rapidly
the crux of the matter isthe bottom line isultimately/the upshot is
predominantlyprimarilymainly/fundamentally
ambitious targerslofty ambitionsambitious/bold (?) goals
crucial forcritical toessential for/required by
productionoutputyield (?)
domesticintrastateinternal
throw awaydiscardthrow out/reject?
limited resourcesfinite capacitylimited means
modify our behaviourchange our waysadapt our behaviour/operate or do things differently
Section 2
further developingscaling upincreasing/stepping up/intensifying/expanding
extractgougescoop out/violently remove
strainedstressedput pressure on
resulting effectsattendant impactsresultant/accompanying effects
are ongoingare underwaythere are currently efforts
amounted tostood ataccounted for
is developingis unfoldingis appearing
a significant barriermajor impedimentsubstantial obstacle
encouragedrivepush
gradually eliminatingphasing outprogressively removing
transferringshiftingmoving
open upunlockprovide
be successful in the longer termstickbe permanent/long-lasting
phase out their activitieswind downreduce their activities/gradually shut up shop
incorporatingintegratingincluding

If your English is a B

Here are some ideas:

  • look out for the exercises that are specifically designed for English Bs in the module.
  • If your intonation and pronunciation need work, why not do a little bit of shadowing with one of the tailor-made speeches?
  • Use the reading exercises as an opportunity to pick up new idiomatic phrases in English.
  • Use the glossary as a shortcut to make sure you know the key terminology in a particular subject.
  • Use the tailor-made speeches as material for a reformulation exercise (EN>EN simultaneous). See how versatile your English B is by looking for alternatives and synonyms.
  • Take EN>EN notes and check that you have good symbols and abbreviations.

Here’s a taster of a simultaneous speech, from the module on taxation (available 1st October).

Sample tailor-made speech – tax module

If you’re a trainer

You are welcome to use E4T materials in the classroom as a teaching aid.

Please credit us, and don’t share your login details as this compromises the security of the site.

If you’d like a whole cohort of students or trainers to be able to access the materials in their own time, please contact us for pricing.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • If you have a topic of the week at your institution, your students could listen to some of the material in the Resources section to prepare.
  • Pick one of the exercises (reading or listening) for your students to do before class as preparation
  • Use one of the tailor-made consecutive speeches in class when you’re teaching consecutive.
  • Give your students one of the exercises or speeches to do as homework.
  • Use the speech transcript to help you when listening to students work in simultaneous.

Here’s a sample listening exercise, from our module on vaccination.

Sample listening exercise – vaccination module

The source material for this exercise is a podcast called ‘Science vs’. The episode I’ve chosen is called ‘Vaccines – are they safe?’, and I’ve chosen it for two reasons: the presenter has an Australian accent, and her presenting style is quite informal (click on the image to access the podcast).

Vocabulary and comprehension exercise

  1. Listen to the podcast between -23.35 and -8.21. This section begins with ‘There’s another idea about how vaccines could be causing autism: Mercury.  Mercury… is sometimes used as a preservative in vaccines… in a form called thimerosal.’
  2. Listen out for unknown or interesting words or phrases.
  3. Read the following list. For each word or phrase, consider a) if you could give a definition, b) how you would render this in your A language, c) whether you know any synonyms in English. Do they have the same register or connotations?

  • kooky
  • to comb through
  • a raft of studies
  • freaking out
  • a debate that won’t die
  • a whack-a-mole game
  • cut and dry
  • their assessments lined up

You can find a transcript of the podcast here.

An exercise for English Bs

The presenter’s style in this podcast is very conversational. In places, she uses informal register.

Try using the podcast as a reformulation exercise. Start in the same place, and go all the way to the end of the podcast. See if you can raise the register so it is more formal.

When you’ve finished, think about what phrases you changed.

You may have changed scary, a big deal, kooky, freaking out, whack-a-mole game, and ‘do they stack up?’. You may also have changed ‘a bunch of’ and ‘WAY more than’.

In British English, ‘kids’ is fairly informal as well, although it is much more common in American English. As a British English speaker, if I wanted to be more neutral or formal, I would have changed ‘kids’ into ‘children’.

Where to find E4T

Here are the modules we’ve published so far. Just click on the links to find out more or to purchase.

Vaccination

Fake news

The gig economy

The circular economy

We publish a new module on the 1st of each month. Our next module, on taxation, is due for publication on 1st October.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief E4T taster. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions, or if you’d like to suggest a topic for a forthcoming module!

The best way to develop your retour (and it’s not what you think)

develop your retour

‘What do you do to develop your retour?’

I sometimes ask my interpreting students this question. I’m curious to know what they do with their limited time outside of class. The calls on their time are so great (writing essays, researching the topic of the week, preparing speeches, practising interpreting into their A language, attending theory modules and other lectures, and having a life!) that I’m quite sure they want all their self-training to be productive.

In their shoes, I would want to wring every bit of juice from the exercises or activities I did to try to improve my retour. I certainly wouldn’t want to waste time on activities with a limited value.

Yet all too often, this is what they say in response to my question:

  • I listen to the radio in the background.
  • I watch the news on TV.
  • I read the Economist/the papers.
  • I’m flat-sharing with a native speaker, so I get some practice in.
  • I practise interpreting from A into B (but I don’t have anyone to listen to me).

Can you see what the problem is with these suggestions?

Practising interpreting from A into B is the end goal of a retourist. 

If your B language isn’t strong enough, you will produce unidiomatic English (or substitute whatever your B language is). If you don’t have a native speaker or someone with a strong English B to listen to you and make suggestions, you are unlikely to improve your performance next time (although there are ways to get around this – see my blog post for ideas).

In short, although there is definitely a place for practising your interpreting from A into B, it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. If you do nothing else, you will get very tired and you may limit your progress. Before you can interpret effectively into your B language, you must have sufficient mastery and flexibility in that language to produce it spontaneously and idiomatically when speaking on a variety of subjects.

Let’s turn to the other typical ‘homework’ activities mentioned by aspiring retourists: listening to the radio, reading widely, watching the news. All these activities are very passive (just think of the implications of ‘in the background’!). They may well improve your knowledge of current affairs and your comprehension of your B language, but you need to go a step further than that. To improve your retour, you need to activate your B language.

Develop your retour by activating your B language

Let’s take another look at those activities and see if we can tweak them so as to make them more active.

Listening to the radio/podcasts or watching TV

  • Try repeating key vocabulary out loud.
  • Take note of useful phrases (whole phrases, not just words, so you get the collocations right).
  • Prepare a short glossary based on the vocabulary used in the programme or podcast you have just heard.
  • After the programme, give a short summary out loud in your B language.
  • Jot down a few arguments (e.g. pros and cons) and prepare a short speech in your B language based on what you’ve heard.

Reading the Economist/the papers/classical literature

The good news about reading in this way is that it can improve your background knowledge and your understanding of cultural aspects of your B language. If you choose your reading matter carefully to address your weaknesses (for instance, if you know you tend to be too colloquial in your B language), you can also work on register while acquiring useful vocabulary. It’s always good to kill several birds with one stone!

  • Take note of useful phrases (whole phrases, not just words, so you get the collocations right).
  • Think carefully about register. What elements of the language make it more formal? Can you incorporate any of these phrases into your interpreting?

Chatting to housemates or friends

Speaking is certainly more active than reading or listening to the radio, and is a good opportunity to expand your vocabulary and speak your B language with greater fluency. It won’t, however, improve your retour significantly if a) the person you’re speaking to doesn’t correct you when you make mistakes, b) you are not aware of nuances of register when speaking to your friends, and you pick up bad habits or phrases that are inappropriate in the workplace, and c) you only ever talk about the same things.

Make sure you are alert to colloquialisms or vulgarity in everyday conversation, to avoid, for example, telling your tutor that you are ‘pissed off’ (as a student once said to me, not realising how rude it was, as her flatmates said it all the time). Be disciplined in everyday conversations; habits such as saying ‘I mean’, ‘you know’, or ‘like’ all the time are very hard to get rid of.

Consider opportunities to speak your B language in a different context, more relevant to your future career. You could join a debating society, for instance.

‘Pre-interpreting’ exercises to help develop your retour skills

I’m calling these pre-interpreting because they are not interpreting exercises per se, but activities you can do instead of, or before, practising interpreting a speech on a given topic. As I said earlier, production takes precedence over interpretation, and these are exercises that will force you to work on reformulation and expressing yourself naturally in your B

  • Preparing a speech on a subject of your choice. This is a great pre-interpreting exercise. Pick a topic, read a couple of articles, take note of a few phrases, and articulate your thoughts in a structured speech in your B language. Afterwards, you might like to try interpreting a speech from A into B on the same subject. You’ll be primed and ready to go!
  • Shadowing. To clarify: I don’t think shadowing in the literal sense of repeating everything you hear is necessarily useful, especially in an A language. However, if your B language is quite weak, shadowing a good speaker is an opportunity to get a feel for intonation patterns and to hear yourself say certain phrases out loud. If your B is stronger, you can use shadowing as a reformulation exercise (listen to the ideas, edit them, and reformulate them); this is a very advanced exercise, but excellent for working on versatility, concision and paraphrasing. Look out for a future blog post about shadowing.
  • Sight translation. Again, this is a challenging exercise, but a great opportunity to think about reformulation. Howe many ways can you think of to express the same idea? Sight translation is also good done in a group, because other members may come up with good ideas.

Develop your retour skills while having fun

It doesn’t all have to be hard work. There are plenty of opportunities for having fun with language and improving your retour skills almost without noticing

  • Don’t forget that basic grammar and vocabulary often need work. There are plenty of useful websites and apps for this. How about Memrise for learning vocab? And why not look for quizzes to help consolidate your understanding of aspects of grammar such as prepositions?
  • Play games. Articulate and Taboo are a lot of fun, and a great way to practise reformulation. A few glasses of wine will help things along! Or why not play your favourite video game, but in your B language?
  • Sneak your B language into your life in other ways. Change the settings on your browser or Facebook so they’re in your B language. If the Economist seems too heavy, read a cookery/cycling/photography magazine in your B language. Find a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks your B language (as well as the language of lurve).

Conclusion

It’s worth repeating: you can’t interpret well into your B language until you can speak your B language confidently and idiomatically in a variety of situations.

The way I see it, to develop a strong retour, you need to focus first on improving your active language skills in your B, then move on to interpreting. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t attempt interpreting for ten years, until your mastery of your B language is perfect (as if such a thing were possible!), but my feeling is that when you start trying to develop your retour, you need to focus more on expanding your repertoire (vocabulary, register), consolidating the language and producing it spontaneously or semi-spontaneously. When you do practise interpreting, make sure you have done plenty of preparatory work to smooth the way for a productive practice session and to boost your confidence, which is absolutely critical to working succesfully into a B language.

As your B language improves and you can use your B with greater flexibility and versatility, the balance can shift and you can spend more time on interpreting.

I hope this post has given you plenty of ideas for developing your retour in ways that are productive and sometimes even fun! What works best for you? Leave me a comment – and if you have friends or colleagues who might be interested, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter!

To your success,

Sophie signature transparent


Interpreting Coach logoSophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills, and check out the website for digital material to complement your face-to-face learning and empower you to take control of your learning. If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close