One of the most frequent questions people ask me when I tell them I study Interpreting is “Are you worried that you may be replaced by machines in a few years’ time?”
“No, I’m not worried. It will take more than ‘a few years’ for machines to be smart enough to deal with problems in occasions which really matter.” I usually reply like that.
Confident I may sound, but deep down I’m worried just like most people. Until I heard a strangely new term “Simultaneous Consecutive” or “Sim-Consec” from Maha El-Metwally who gave us an amazing lecture on Technology for Interpreters this Tuesday at school.
How can interpreting be simultaneous and consecutive at the same time??
Well, you listen to a recording of what the speaker just said and interpret it simultaneously in your turn, in a traditional consecutive interpreting (CI) mode.
According to Miriam Hamidi and Franz Pöchhacker (2007), it is a hybrid mode of interpreting “in which storage of the original message in the interpreter’s notes and long-term memory is replaced by a digital recording of the original speech, which the interpreter plays back into earphones and renders in the simultaneous mode.” In other words, you can cheat. You can listen to the tape twice before you write down the answer in a listening test!
Maha mentioned several technologies, but I want to focus on the one that impressed me the most: a smart pen called Livescribe.
The digital pen comes with a special notebook. Interpreters use both of them to take down notes in a consecutive interpreting scenario. It’s just like any other normal pen and notebook except for the surreal part which make one feels like being in the future: the notebook is like an Ipad which is controlled by the digital pen in your hand, and you actually feel like writing on a piece of paper instead of a screen.
Importantly, quality is higher in this hybrid interpreting mode than it in the traditional CI setting. Orlando (2014) did an experiment comparing the interpreting quality in traditional CI and Sim-Consec modes. According to the findings, in the Sim-Consec mode, the interpretation was more accurate with long and consistent eye contact and fewer disfluencies.
Orlando (2014) then listed some merits Sim-Consec provides for interpreters. Firstly, interpreters have the luxury to listen to the target text a second time. Secondly, interpreters can adjust the speed of the sound track while listening (!!). Thirdly, interpreters can replay a certain part of the recording with a simple “click on the notebook” with the digital pen. Finally, interpreters could develop a different system of note-taking for advanced purposes.
And people thought translating has been the only one evolving in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This reminds me of something William Gibson said:
“Future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”
Hamidi, M. and Pöchhacker, F., 2007. Simultaneous consecutive interpreting: A new technique put to the test. Meta: Journal des traducteurs/Meta: Translators’ Journal, 52(2), pp.276-289.
Orlando, M., 2014. A study on the amenability of digital pen technology in a hybrid mode of interpreting: Consec-simul with notes. Translation & Interpreting, 6(2), pp.39-54.