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Becoming an interpreter: Exploring the development of interpreters from trainees to practitioners

Chen, An-Chi (2014) Becoming an interpreter: Exploring the development of interpreters from trainees to practitioners. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Interpreting is an ancient activity but interpreter training is, with only decades of history, a fairly new discipline. To respond to the growing population of interpreting learners, and the rising demand for trained interpreters, this study investigates interpreters as learners, exploring the development of interpreters from trainees to practitioners. Research on learning reveals that learning is a knowledge construction process, and that the conventional cognitive approach towards learning has been challenged by the more updated social approach to learning, with differing knowledge claims on teaching and learning styles, as well as the knowledge they produce respectively. This study assumes the existence of ‘working knowledge’, incorporating both theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. To narrow the general understanding on learning down to a specialised area, or so-called professional learning, the knowledge construction process thus equates to the development of expertise in a given field. In the context of learning interpreting, this study investigates how interpreters build their expertise in interpreting. Using Charles Goodwin’s concept of ‘professional vision’ (1994) is a way for interpreters as insiders to communicate their professional working knowledge to outsiders of the interpreting field. Previous work on interpreter education provides a significant account of interpreter training curriculum and rationale, but limited work has been done on the learning experiences of interpreters at different stages. In search of a paradigm which has the potential to understand learning interpreting developmentally, Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice (1999) was adopted as the theoretical framework of this study. It was anticipated that the Communities of Practice could provide a more encompassing view of learning. With the Communities of Practice as the theoretical framework, this study investigates how interpreters learn by looking into their mutual engagement, why they want to learn to be interpreters by exploring their joint enterprise, and what shared repertoires are developed in their venture of becoming an interpreter. The data of this study came from four groups of interpreters who had undergone identical interpreter training but were at different stages—student interpreters, graduate-to-be interpreters, novice interpreters and experienced interpreters—were recruited for open-ended interview. Based on an ethnographically-informed research design, narrative presented in the interview setting is the key tool in this study, offering a platform for the researcher to ‘discover and describe’ (Spradley, 1979) the learning experiences of interpreters. The narrative data from interviewing interpreters reveal the characteristics of interpreting learners before training, learning during training, learning at work and explores learning as participation. The findings demonstrate that many interpreting learners are not only language graduates with a practical attitude towards the promising career prospects of interpreting, but have also had related interpreting experiences prior to training, which motivated them to undertake training. Next, the narrative data examined indicate that learning during training can be divided into three primary activities: learning in class with tutors, group practice with peers, and self-study. After training, learning at work takes place within three domains: interpreting practice, the interpreting profession, and working with people. Practically, trainee interpreters increase their background knowledge and develop interpreting skills during training, while practising interpreters apply their interpreting skills at work and develop coping strategies for the demands of their work. The final sets of data examined in this study investigate learning as participation for practising interpreters using the concept of the Communities of Practice, and reveal the existence of a dichotomy between two sub-markets in interpreting, namely the private freelance market and the staff positions in international organisations, especially in terms of the interpreting market as perceived by practising interpreters. The data demonstrates the level of competition in the private market which leads freelance interpreters to undercut and undermine each other, and that the support system seems non-exist in the private market since freelancers do not expect to help each other at all. In contrast, for those staff interpreters working for international organisations, they have a more straightforward career trajectory to follow. Lastly, the development gap between trainees and practitioners is addressed by articulating the professional vision offered by practising interpreters, which include methods for learning interpreting and an effective approach to job-seeking, something novice interpreters are eager to know. From a theoretical perspective, the idea of the Communities of Practice was found to be problematic for two main reasons: Firstly, looking from the view of mobility, there are multiple Communities of Practice in existence in the context of becoming an interpreter: Community of Trainees (CoT), Community of Freelancers (CoF) and Community of Staff Interpreters (CoS), with their own particular features and development trajectories. Secondly, by investigating the idea of identity, the three major characteristics (joint enterprise, mutual engagement and shared repertoire) of the Communities of Practice are missing or only partially evident in CoF and CoS, with only CoT completely following the characteristics outlined by Wenger (1998) and Lave and Wenger (1999). Finally, this study addresses the educational implications for interpreter training. This study fills the knowledge gap between interpreter training, learning interpreting and interpreting practice, contributing to a contextualised understanding of how one becomes an interpreter from a learner’s perspective and outlining how interpreters at different stages of development approach their professional learning.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
ISBN: 978-0-85731-843-5
Keywords: learning interpreting, interpreter training, interpreter development, professional learning, the Communities of Practice, narrative method
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds) > School of Education (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.634290
Depositing User: Leeds CMS
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2015 10:48
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2015 13:47
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7829

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