The development of coherence and quality of performance in conference interpreter training
Conference interpreters are made not born, as Herbert (1978) and Mackintosh (1999) point out. The increase in the number of interpreting schools worldwide not only demonstrates the demand for qualified interpreters but also highlights the significance of training for ensuring quality service from conference interpreters. The purpose of training, ultimately, is to make competent interpreters who can deliver quality performance. Research on conference interpreting has tended to focus on issues of quality in professional circumstances (Buhler, 1986; Kahane, 2000; Kurz, 1993; Moser, 1996). Training is also one of the most explored fields in the world of conference interpreting research (Gile, 2000). Yet only limited work has been done to investigate quality standards for pedagogical purposes (Gile, 2001). To produce quality interpretations, practice alone is not enough. Being reflective is of prime importance. Trainees' awareness of quality is vital for them to become reflective, yet this issue has not been properly addressed in the literature. In addition, in the trainer-centred approach, trainees acquire not only interpreting skills from their trainers, they also inherit the way trainers describe quality. Yet it is often observed that trainers do not share a common meta-language to discuss quality attributes of interpretations. Such confusion is inevitably passed on to the trainees. To address these situations, I gathered quality standards and criteria from professional, training and linguistic fields and devised a feedback tool which spells out those attributes explicitly. This feedback tool is adopted to raise trainees' awareness of quality and ultimately, help them progress in their interpretations. Talking about quality of interpreting, `making sense' is generally held to be one of the most important criteria for judging the success of a given interpretation, in both consecutive interpreting (CI) and simultaneous interpreting (SI) (Hatim & Mason, 1997; Kahane, 2000; Kopczynski, 1994; Kurz, 1993; Moser, 1996). For CI in particular, Hatim and Mason (2002: 262) state that the coherence and structure of the rendition are especially important (Peng & Hartley, 2005). Therefore, the significance of coherence should not be overlooked by trainees. Moreover, the development of coherence in their interpretations is a useful measure of their progress. Building awareness of quality attributes of interpreting, such as coherence, is a process of evolution for trainees, and systematic guidance can facilitate this process (Peng, 2004). In this study, we address the question of how to observe and investigate the development of coherence in interpreting. I propose that Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) (1986) is a suitably rich discourse structure framework for exploring how coherence is realised in interpretations. RST has been widely used for describing the hierarchical organisation of natural texts in terms of some 30 functional relations holding between text chunks, thereby characterising the coherence of the whole text. It has also proven to be useful in describing the structure of spoken discourse (Tappe & Schilder, 1998). Its use by Marcu (2000) in automatic text summarisation - which introduces the notions of relevance and salience, and thereby a principled basis for progressively compressing a message -provides further inspiration for the analysis of my data. My data consist of 66 consecutive interpretations, by eight trainees and three professional interpreters, of three Chinese and three English speeches. Each speech and interpreted discourse is transcribed, segmented into functional units, and mapped into a tree-like RST description. I compare these RST trees using three variables: 1) implicit/explicit discourse marking; 2) the structure (width and depth) of the tree; 3) and the nature of the summary yielded by Marcu's summarisation algorithm RST also allows me to account for the occurrence of repair/self-correction to explore whether disfluency would impede the coherence of a discourse. The results from the comparison of trainee and professional performances reveal differing approaches to handling the coherence of a discourse. Trainees tend to focus on local cohesion while professionals tend to emphasise the global structure of the discourse. Furthermore, by observing the RST trees of trainee interpretations over time, I witness the development of their capacity for dealing with complex rhetorical structures by using more diverse and more specific connectives. In addition, I observe that a high frequency of self-correction definitely affects coherence, but few repairs do not guarantee good coherence. It is also noted that clear understanding of quality attributes, such as coherence, helps trainees to develop capacities in giving judgements of interpretations (Peng & Hartley, 2005). My evidence suggests this awareness also contributes to the improvement of their own performances. I believe that RST offers a very useful framework to describe the abstract concept of coherence. It is also worth introducing RST analysis (or at least an RSTaware analysis) to interpreters during their training. Such analysis enables them to capture the structure of coherence better and to give more coherent renditions in ivtheir interpreting as a result. This thesis demonstrates that my exploratory approach offers interesting findings and implications for interpreter training, as well as directions for further research in both the conference interpreting and RST communities.