Language studies and interpretation internship students collaborate in a multilingual human rights forum


A recent multilingual human rights forum at the Irvine Auditorium allowed student presenters and performers to apply their learning in the classroom through a live lecture.

The forum, held over two dates in October, took the form of a simulated lecture – live, but without an audience – based on the Monterey model. Like its larger counterpart, this Monterey mini-model featured language studies students presenting their research – in this case, on the topic of human rights – in their non-native languages. The interpreter trainees provided simultaneous interpretation in English and relayed it in French, Spanish, Chinese and (with the help of an external interpreter) in Arabic.

Addressing sensitive topics around international human rights, the students gave lectures and organized round tables in Spanish and English on October 21 and in Arabic and French on October 28. The faculty leaders were Sabino Morera, Spanish; Marie Butcher, English; Rana Issa, Arabic; and Abdelkader Berrahmoun, French.

Butcher, responsible for the English for Academic and Professional Purposes program and conference organizer, chose the human rights theme in honor of his late friend and colleague, Jan Knippers Black. Black, who came to the Institute in 1991, was a renowned human rights defender. Upon her retirement in 2018, she established the Jan Knippers Black Fund for Human Rights Protection, which supports the work of students and lecturers in the area of ​​human rights.

Although COVID restrictions barred a live audience, Butcher said the venue and format had all the feel of a busy event, something students missed for nearly two years. She called it a “very dynamic environment,” explaining that “the students really had to step up, they had to deliver as if they were in an auditorium at full capacity. It was very exciting, and they felt it.

Time in the cabin

For some interpretation students, the forum marked their first opportunity to practice their skills live. Dmitry Buzadzhi, who co-teaches the interpretation course, says it’s a crucial difference. “It’s one thing not to interpret for anyone, just to practice, when no one really needs interpretation. It’s an entirely different thing where people rely on interpretation and cannot participate otherwise. This makes all the difference for the performers, because they are on their guard and know that it is not just an exercise.

The students were also able to discover the behind-the-scenes work that accompanies the interpretation. “Some of our students were responsible for liaising with the organizers, the speakers, distributing the material, managing what you do if you get material in a language you don’t understand, all of that,” explains Buzadzhi. He emphasizes the importance of spending time in one of Irvine’s four interpretation booths, saying that a person’s success in the field depends as much on their interpretation skills as on their ability to work with a partner. in confined spaces of the cabin. “You learn all of these things by doing,” he says. “You learn what makes noise and what doesn’t, where you can set up your laptop and where you just can’t set it up. Plus you have to decide on some of the basic things like who starts, how you keep track of time, how you change.

The hybrid format

Some presenters participated remotely, so the forum was held in a hybrid format. Butcher’s English-speaking cohort, for example, indicates the complexity: “I had two groups in person, a hybrid group with someone on screen and two in the room, and the last one was all pre-recorded because the participants were in Beijing, ”she says.

Buzadzhi says this hybrid format made interpretation much more difficult. Under normal circumstances, he says, you can focus only on interpretation. “When you have to do remote or hybrid interpretation, all those extra layers, these buttons to press, different headsets, different mics, making sure your sound is going to the right source, that’s something that performers simultaneous never had to manage. before.”

While chief interpreter Matt Schetina, a sophomore in the Translation and Interpreting program, admits the hybrid style has made the job more difficult, he believes it could become the norm. “It seemed like a big window into the future of multilingual / international conferences in the postCOVID world, ”he said.

Despite the difficulties of the format, Schetina enjoyed the personal interaction, an aspect of the interpretation that was largely lacking during the pandemic, as public events on campus were restricted. “My favorite part of working with the Human Rights Forum has been strategizing across different departments of MIIS, “he says.” It was a great opportunity to meet students and faculty outside of my department and a good reminder that managing interpretive projects requires proactive conversation and cooperation. “

Calling the forum’s hybrid format “an incredible technological challenge and an incredible interpretive challenge,” Butcher is proud of how students and faculty worked hard to make it a success. “We did everything,” she says.

The legacy of Jan Knippers Black

Butcher says the Human Rights Forum has achieved its goals. “We had an incredible opportunity for collaboration between language students at MIIS. We prepared them and gave them this opportunity for a multilingual professional conference, and thus we were able to honor the late and great Jan Knippers Black by focusing on human rights.

For Butcher, that last part – acknowledging her friend’s legacy – made this forum especially special.

“I really wanted to do this to pay tribute to him,” she says.


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