Conference Interpreters and Their Listening Behaviour—a Guest Article by Lisa Woytowicz

Listening is an integral part of every conference interpreter’s job. It might therefore be surprising that there is hardly any research on conference interpreters’ listening behaviour. Since I did not find too much on the issue, I conducted my own study.

About Listening

Studies on listening behaviour exist. But generally, they are conducted by scholars in the field of psychology or communication studies. According to these experts, listening is a multidimensional construct which consists of behavioural, cognitive, and affective processes.

Every time we listen, we—or rather our brains—process information on several levels: When somebody speaks, we receive (verbal and non-verbal) signals. We identify sounds and put them together. We recognise words, sentences and what they mean. During this process, our short-term memory continuously verifies whether the incoming information corresponds to the information stored in our long-term memory. Besides, it adds new information and establishes new links.

There is evidence that the more we already know about an issue, the faster our short-term memory processes the information. This is not only fascinating; it also is one of the reasons why preparing an interpreting assignment is key.

Listening as a Skill

However, there is a tiny but important step in the listening process which is often ignored or at least underestimated: every listener has an intention, a goal she pursues. Selecting a listening goal is the very first step of the listening process which commonly happens subconsciously. Nevertheless, it is a decision every listener makes. And it determines which of the incoming signals are considered relevant and which will be ignored.

When interpreting simultaneously, conference interpreters are special listeners because they are “double listeners”. They need to listen to the speaker and—at the same time—to themselves. They listen to the information they interpret while also making sure that their rendition makes sense and is grammatically and semantically correct. This kind of listening behaviour might be part of the job description. Nevertheless, it is quite unnatural.

Experts agree that listening is “an identifiable set of skills, attitudes, and abilities [that] can be formulated and taught to improve individual performance” (Worthington & Bodie, 2017, p. 8). And this is brilliant! It means that interpreters can learn to make conscious listening decisions to become better listeners and thus (even) better interpreters.

Different Listening Styles

The Listening Styles Profile (LSP) is a concept to describe listening behaviour. According to the latest version of the LSP, listening styles are listening goals which are triggered by individual predispositions (i.e., they are partially stable) and elements of the listening situation (i.e., they are partially not stable).

There are four different listening styles:

  • Relational listening: a concern with and awareness of the speakers’ feelings and emotions,
  • Analytical listening: focussing on the full message before forming an opinion,
  • Task-oriented listening: a concern with the amount of time spent listening and a desire to interact with focused speakers,
  • Critical listening: a tendency to evaluate and critically assess messages for accuracy and consistency. (Bodie & Worthington, 2017, p. 403)

Data on listening behaviour is collected using self-assessment questionnaires. For my research project, I used the LSP-R8 (Rinke, 2016).

Assessing the Listening Behaviour of Different Professions

I asked representatives of three different professions as well as students enrolled in the respective university courses about their listening behaviour. Using an online questionnaire, I was able to gather data on the listening behaviour of 242 (future) psychologists, teachers, and conference interpreters.

Several t-tests were performed to determine statistically relevant differences between the groups mentioned above. If you are into statistics, let me know and I am happy to give you the details. But for now, let us skip the statistical part and get straight to the results. So, here is what I found:

  • Conference interpreters have a stronger tendency toward Critical listening than the other professionals.
  • Conference interpreters have a weaker tendency toward Relational listening than the other professionals.

To my surprise, there were no statistically relevant differences among the student groups. Apparently, future conference interpreters’ listening behaviour does not differ very much from the way future psychologists or future teachers listen.

Therefore, I concluded that the frequent use of a certain listening style on-the-job might result in applying it frequently, even in other contexts. If you think about it, this is not very far-fetched. The more we use a certain skill, the more we train it and the better we get at it. And when we are good at something, we tend to do it more often. In the end, this cycle might lead to partially automatising a certain listening behaviour.

Remember, interpreters are double listeners who always make sure that their rendition is correct. So, they often apply Critical listening when sitting in the booth. Psychologists and teachers—in their professional contexts—surely use a lot more Relational listening. In the end, psychologists are paid to know how people feel; and teachers regularly need to put themselves into the shoes of their students to meet their needs.


What are these findings good for? Well, competent listeners can flexibly switch between different listening styles, always adapting to new listening contexts. Irrespective of one’s profession, this might be a goal everybody could strive for. At the end of the day, being a good listener is a great asset.

It looks as though conference interpreters should train to use Relational listening more often. They could start thinking about situations in which this listening style (or the others) could come in handy, particularly if Critical listening is more of a hindrance than a help. These might be situations which involve talking to clients, colleagues, family, and friends.

Furthermore, conference interpreters could try to consciously apply different listening styles in the booth. Depending on the speaker, they might grasp more of the relevant information by focussing on her emotions (Relational listening) or on the full message (Analytical listening).

Interpreting trainers could consider establishing listening behaviour as part of the curriculum. Besides, the LSP might help explain certain flaws, such as omissions, contresens, etc., which could be relevant for giving (better) feedback.

Since listening plays such an important role in every conference interpreter’s (professional) life, there are plenty of other conclusions to be drawn. Are you interested in discussing your suggestions? Just send me an e-mail:



Bodie, G. D. & Worthington, D. L. (2017). Profile 36 listening styles profile-revised (LSP-R). In D. L. Worthington & G. D. Bodie (Eds.), The sourcebook of listening research. Methodology and measures (pp. 402–409). Wiley-Blackwell.

Imhof, M. (2010). Zuhören lernen und lehren. Psychologische Grundlagen zur Beschreibung und Förderung von Zuhörkompetenzen in Schule und Unterricht. In M. Imhof & V. Bernius (Eds.), Zuhörkompetenz in Unterricht und Schule. Beiträge aus Wissenschaft und Praxis (pp. 15–30). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Rinke, E. M. (2016, May 14). A general survey measure of individual listening styles: Short form of the listening styles profile-revised (LSP-R8) [AAPOR Poster Session 3]. Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Hilton Austin, Austin, TX, United States.

Worthington, D. & Bodie, G. D. (2017). Defining listening. A historical, theoretical, and pragmatic assessment. In D. L. Worthington & G. D. Bodie (Eds.), The sourcebook of listening research. Methodology and measures (pp. 3–17). Wiley-Blackwell.

Woytowicz, L. (2019). Persönlichkeitseigenschaften und Listening Styles von Konferenzdolmetschern im Vergleich zu anderen Berufsgruppen [unpublished master’s thesis]. Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

About the author

Lisa Woytowicz is a professional conference interpreter for German, English, and Portuguese, based in Essen (Germany).

Simultaneous interpreting in the time of coronavirus – Boothmates behind glass walls

Yesterday was one of the rare occasions where conference interpreters were still brought to the client’s premises for a multilingual meeting. Participants from abroad were connected via a web meeting platform, while the few people who were on-site anyway were sitting at tables 2 meters apart from each other. But what about the interpreters, who usually share a booth of hardly 2 x 2 m, and who are not exactly known for their habit of social distancing in the first place? Well, PCS, the client’s conference technology provider of choice, came up with a simple, yet effective solution: They just split up the teams and gave us one booth each. So there we were, my colleague Inés de Chavarría and I, spreading our stuff in our private booths, separated by no more than a window.

Separate booths

Now, apart from having to bring our own food (no catering available), by the time we met in the morning of this meeting, we had already figured out which would probably be the main challenges of being boothmates while separated by a glass wall:

1 How do we agree on when to take turns?

2 How do we help each other by writing down numbers, names and difficult words?

3 How do we tell each other that we want coffee/are completely knackered/need to go to the loo, complain about the sound/accent/temperature/chairman’s haircut or ask how the kids are?

Luckily, after an exciting day, we felt that we had found great solutions to all our communicative needs:

1 Taking over: Although the colleague who was not working couldn’t listen to the original and the interpretation at the same time, she could tell quite reliably from gestures and eye-contact when to take over. So, no countdown or egg timer needed as long as you can see each other.

2 Helping out – These were the options we tried:

Write down things with pen and paper, show it through the window: Rather slow and hard to read due to reflections from the booth windows. The same goes for typing on the computer and looking at the screen through the window.

Scribbling in a shared file in Microsoft Whiteboard (great), One Note (ok), Google Drawings (a bit slow and unprecise): Fine as long as all parties involved have a touchscreen and decent pen. Sometimes hard to read, depending on the quality of the pen/screen and handwriting.

Typing in a shared file like Google Sheets or Docs: This was our method of choice. The things we typed appeared on the other’s screen in real-time, plus it was perfectly legible, in contrast to some people’s handwriting. A perfect solution as long as there is decent Wifi or mobile data connection. And although I am usually of the opinion that there is no such thing as a decent spreadsheet, in this case, a plain word processing document has one clear advantage: When you type in Google Docs, each character you type will appear on your colleague’s screen practically in real-time, whereas when typing in the cell of a Google Sheet, your colleague won’t be able to see it until you „leave“ this cell and jump to the next one.

3  The usual chitchat:

WhatsApp, or rather the WhatsApp Web App, was the first thing we all spontaneously resorted to for staying in contact with a glass wall between us. But it quickly turned out to be rather distracting, with all sorts of private messages popping up.

Luckily, all Google documents come with a chat function included, so we had both our meeting-related information exchange and our personal logistics neatly displayed next to each other in the same browser window.

If we had worked with many different documents that needed to be managed while interpreting, I would have liked to try Microsoft Teams. With its chat function and shared documents, among other features, it seems very promising as a shared booth platform. But their registration service was down due to overload anyway, so that’s for next time.

So, all in all, a very special experience, and rather encouraging thanks to the many positive contributions from all people involved. And the bottom line, after having to accommodate on my laptop screen the booth chat and notes next to the usual glossary, online resources, agenda and meeting documents: My next panic purchase will be a portable touchscreen in order to double my screen space in the booth.

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.



Preparing on numbers: Yes, we CAN (and SHOULD)! – A Guest Article by Francesca Maria Frittella

A new client requested you to interpret at his business’s annual press conference. It’s quite a big assignment and the event takes place in only five days, but you are not worried: the best practices that you have developed through your training and professional experience allow you to prepare efficiently and effectively. So, you get started with your preparation. You find out more about the company’s departments and positions and prepare a multilingual list of speakers and participants. You learn more about the company’s products and create a glossary using your favourite computer-assisted interpreting tools. Of course, you also prepare strategically on numerical facts and organise key data for easy access in the booth.

The following statement will, therefore, appear obscure to you:

“ Preparation, as a means to overcome number problems, is not very efficient. Most numbers that arise in speeches do not form part of interpreters’ general knowledge.“

I was surprised when I read this comment to one of my articles by a peer reviewer in one of the most influential scientific magazines in interpreting research. After all, the conviction that preparation is key to interpret numbers successfully seems not to be shared by all experts in our field. Time and again, this observation found confirmation in my research studies on the topic as well as in my experience teaching my course on the simultaneous interpretation of numbers, talking at conferences and exchanging views with colleagues on this topic. A large number of students, trainers and professionals are unclear about why, when and how preparation is helpful to interpret numbers. In this blog post, I will try to clarify these points and share with you some general principles to guide your numerical preparation for assignments.

Of course, preparation on numerical facts, just like general preparation, may only be efficient and effective if it is goal-directed and systematic. In other words, if we do not want to waste our time and make sure that our numerical preparation actually allows us to improve our interpretation quality, we need a technique for numerical preparation―a set of procedures and methods that allow us to achieve the desired effect. To develop and refine our technique for numerical preparation, it is, therefore, first and foremost important to define its purpose.

1. The function of preparation in interpreting

The function of numerical preparation can be compared to the function of preparation in general. When we prepare for our assignments, we conduct two distinct types of preparation: terminological and knowledge-based. Both types have their own function, and both are, therefore, necessary.
Terminological preparation is aimed at finding target-language equivalents for source-language terms. To be useful, this type of preparation should guarantee that we have identified all the most relevant terms to our assignment.
Knowledge-based preparation is aimed at acquiring encyclopaedic knowledge about the topic of our assignment. Such background knowledge is fundamental because it allows us to understand the meaning of the information in the source speech, summarise, reformulate, clarify concepts and check our delivery for plausibility.

2. The function of numerical preparation: why and when is it important?

The same principles apply to numerical preparation. Preparation on numerical facts can, too, be divided into two types, each with its own function.
The first type of numerical preparation aims at identifying the key components of the numerical information unit. Numbers (the bare arithmetical value) are always accompanied by other elements that constitute the information unit, such as referent (the thing that the number quantifies or defines) and unit of measurement (the accepted standard of measurement of quantity), like in the example below:

a 19[arithmetical value]-inch[unit of measurement] tablet [referent]

A number without a referent is like a sentence without a subject. All elements of the numerical information unit must be interpreted accurately to convey the information. For instance, if I didn’t know the equivalent term of the unit of measurement ‘inch’ in the target language, I wouldn’t be able to provide my audience with an accurate rendition of the source-language numerical information.

The second type of numerical preparation is aimed at acquiring encyclopaedic numerical knowledge about the topic of our assignment. Like general encyclopaedic knowledge in understanding, the knowledge of some reference numerical facts allows us to understand the numbers in the source-speech. This enables us to apply interpreting strategies when needed or desirable. For instance, if I didn’t know the correct translation of the word ‘inch’ but I could convert this unit of measurement into centimetre, I would still be able to provide my audience with equivalent information. This type of preparation also allows us to perform a plausibility check of our delivery, which can save us from painful plausibility errors. For instance, knowing the rough length of an inch in the real world, I would not confuse ’19 inches’ with ’90 inches’ when talking about the width of a laptop screen. Even if similar-sounding numerals are a frequent problem trigger, thanks to my background numerical knowledge, I would immediately judge the second option as implausible, see this here.
3. Numerical preparation: how to do it efficiently and effectively?

To summarise, we may distinguish two distinct types of numerical preparation:
1) Preparation on the components of the numerical information unit, like terminological preparation, allows us to increase the accuracy of our delivery, by ensuring that we can rapidly and precisely deliver the information in the target language;
2) Preparation on encyclopaedic numerical knowledge makes it possible for us to understand the meaning of the numerical information, select adequate strategies to solve interpreting-related problems (summarising, reformulating, clarifying etc.), and check our delivery for plausibility.
A common problem with numerical preparation is choosing the right elements to focus on. When you prepare for numerical facts remember a general rule of thumb: less is more but may not be enough. You want to make sure that you do not waste your time trying to memorise endless lists of data but you still need to find the fundamental information that will help you achieve the objective of a more accurate and effortless delivery. To make sure that you are preparing on numerical facts both efficiently and effectively, try asking yourself the following questions:

• What are the top 5 most important numerical facts about this event/topic?―Sure you can do more if you have time, but starting with the 5 most relevant numbers will help you focus your preparation and decrease the likelihood of overseeing fundamental facts that you really should know.
• What are the elements that accompany those 5 key numerical information units?―For each numerical fact, make sure to learn the fundamental elements of the numerical information unit in both the source and the target language. This will help you make sure that you can interpret the information completely and accurately.
• What are the benchmark values for these 5 key numerical facts?―The previous knowledge of some reference values (for instance the highest and lowest values) will allow you to gauge the plausibility of the information in the source speech and in your delivery.

If this all sounds too abstract, don’t worry! A course on the topic will soon be available on We will also be holding a seminar on the topic at AIIC Germany’s PRIMS conference in July 2020. Get in touch to be kept posted!

About the author:

Francesca Maria Frittella

      • Conference Interpreter IT-EN-DE-CN, MA Germersheim, based in Beijing (China),, contact:
      • Researcher in interpreting pedagogy and course design
      • Co-founder of InterpreMY – my interpreting academy: online academy for interpreters with goal-centred, research-based courses, (coming soon: July 2020)
      • Publications:

    Frittella F. M. (2017) Numeri in interpretazione simultanea. Difficoltà oggettive e soggettive: un contributo sperimentale (in English, Numbers in Simultaneous Interpreting. Objective and Subjective Difficulties: An experimental study), Rome, Europa Edizioni.
    Frittella F. M. (2019) „70.6 billion world citizens: Investigating the difficulty of interpreting numbers“, Translation & Interpreting 11/1.

Deliberate Practice – What’s in it for Conference Interpreters

The one thing that strikes me most about deliberate practice is the notion of immediate feedback. How could that possibly work in simultaneous interpreting? You can’t just interrupt each other when interpreting, can you? Well, most certainly not while on the job, but could you give immediate feedback when practising in a silent booth or at home? It reminds me of a dear colleague who once kindly recommended that I shouldn’t end every Spanish sentence with a „no?“, and then she started a tally of all my „nos“ while I was interpreting. Apart from the fun we had, I got rid of this habit once and for all in no time.

But apart from bothering your colleagues to get rid of your bad habits (or not to fall into them in the first place), there must be more to deliberate practice, I thought. So I grabbed what sounded like the most promising book about the subject, which I learned about thanks to the book’s promotion carried out by The Marketing Heaven on social media: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool to see if I could find some inspiration for experienced interpreters or students. And just to whet your appetite, I am happy to share my favourite ideas:

Once reached an acceptable level of – automated – performance, you do not necessarily improve by just going on doing the same thing for years. Your performance may even deteriorate. Leave your comfort zone, challenge your homeostasis if you want to improve.

So that’s that for the discussion about whether conference interpreters need any further training in interpreting once they have graduated („our daily work is training in itself“) …

Don’t just „try harder“, but differently. If you want to practice purposefully, define a realistic sub-goal and focus on the particular sub-skill, then make sure you receive immediate and positive feedback and repeat.

This makes me think of what Andrew Gillies (who also refers to Ericsson) says about practice: Dissect the process of interpreting and practice different sub-skills separately. Andrew suggests a plethora of useful exercises in his book Conference Interpreting – A Student’s Practice Book. And even if you are too lazy to do specific exercises: We all have these meetings once in a while where we know the content inside out, and I have seen colleagues writing emails or playing sudoku while interpreting. Why not focus on a particular aspect of your performance instead? You can play with your ear-voice-span, try to find new ways of expressing the standard phrases, monitor your voice and intonation, watch out for false starts or eeehms, try to make meaningful pauses or structure your output more clearly etc.

You need a mental representation of good performances. Only when you know what it „feels“ like to do something properly, you will be able to notice that what you are doing does not match this way of doing it well. By way of adaptive thinking, you can then correct mistakes.

The part of mental representations that are elicited by interviewing the best of the best performers in their respective fields (e.g. surgeons) could be quite interesting also for interpreting studies. In her dissertation Experience and Expertise in Conference Interpreting: An investigation of Swedish conference interpreters, Elisabet Tiselius conducted a study comparing the performance of interpreters with longer, shorter and no experience. Among many interesting findings, it becomes clear that the notions of deliberate practice and expert interpreter are not clearly defined in the world of interpreting. Differences between short- and long-experience interpreters were not as significant as one might have expected. „It may very well be that monitoring and informativeness are the components that make the expert performance superior. The challenge ahead is to dig deeper into these differences in order to understand and define expertise in interpreting.“ So a lot is still to be done is this field of research, you could check here.

All these insights remind me of another experience of having received immediate feedback. At university, one teacher we had would always listen in and watch us intently when we were interpreting, and he would frown as soon as we talked nonsense, or even interrupt and correct us. As a student, I found this teaching method rather effective, albeit cruel But now, from a deliberate practice perspective, I understand that it might have been even more effective if – just like the tally experience mentioned at the beginning – (a) we had focussed on a sub-skill and (b) the feedback had been given not only immediately, but in a somewhat more enjoyable way. Lesson learned!

Further reading/watching:

Aline Casanova, who is both a conference interpreter and ballet dancer, has a special perspective on the subject.

Elisabet Tiselius, expert in deliberate practice and expertise in interpreting, refers to an analogy made by Ericsson, comparing conference interpreters to violinists:

Blog article on internet platforms for practising in virtual teams: Speechpool, InterpretimeBank & InterpretersHelp – the Perfect Trio for Deliberate Practice in Conference Interpreting

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

Great Piece of Research on Terminology Assistance for Conference Interpreters

Terminology Assistance Coming to a Simultaneous Interpreter Near You

What do conference interpreters‘ booth notes tell us about their information management?

First of all, a big thank you to all of you who followed my call and provided copies of their booth notes for my little study – I finally managed to collect booth notes from 25 colleagues! Now, what was this study all about? The purpose was to see what interpreters write down intuitively on a blank sheet of paper, i.e. with no given structure like a terminology database, supposing that what you find on these notes is what is really relevant in the booth. What I was interested in was

1. to see if these notes possibly confirmed what research says about knowledge management, or terminology management more in particular,

2. to check if this information can be mapped to the structures of booth-friendly terminology managmenent systems.

I was also hoping to get some inspiration about the more general question of how (or if) computers could best support conference interpreters in their work.

As the information on the notes might be confidential, the first thing I decided to do was create a mock set of notes reflecting the statistics of my sample notes:

– Average number of terminological records per set of notes: 20 (10 nouns, 4 phrases, 6 acronyms)
– Of all terminological records, 99.6% were technical or specialised terminology.
– 14 records were in one language only (2 in source language, 12 in target language), 5 records in two languages, 1 record in three and more languages.
– Non-terminological records: 6 numbers; 1 context information like names of legal acts, persons, positions; graphic illustrations (1 drawing, 1 underline)

My self-made model notes look like this:

Of all the things I observed in the notes, I was more surprised by what I did not see than by what I saw:

– Hardly any verbs and adjectives
– not really many drawings illustrating conceptual relations
– 72 % of all „terminological records“ found were made in one language only, and each interpreter wrote down terminology in one language only at least once.

Overall, it looks like the „deeper“ information about content and semantic relations is rather dealt with during preparation while information work in the booth is more about having  crucial context information and the right technical term in the target language (almost all terminological records were of technical nature). In short, this filling of personal knowledge gaps in the booth is the tip of the iceberg of a conference interpreter’s information and knowledge work. This confirms what research says, but makes me wonder whether a terminology tool that – in booth mode – displays key terms in the current target language only (possibly in word clouds) might be more efficient as a word-finding trigger than bilingual, glossary-style lists. Or is cognitive overload the only reason why simultaneous interpreters would note down their terms in one language only in the booth?

Luckily I was even able to collect one team sample, i.e. the notes of 5 interpreters working at the same conference. It was interesting to see that there was indeed some overlapping in the terms noted down and that these „shared“ terms were mainly written at the top of the respective sheets. In particular, 2 acronyms were written down by all 5 interpreters, another 2 acronyms by 4 of the 5 interpreters, and one technical term by 3 of them. Just like the complete study, this is by no means representative, but at least it indicates that it might be possible to provide key terms for certain meetings which are useful to all interpreters.

Beyond statistics and hard data, this study made me think a lot about the possible reasons that put interpreters off going paperless in the booth. It also inspired me to discuss this question with colleagues. It appears that there are several factors that tend to work better on paper than on a computer:

– Screen space: There is only so much information you can display on a computer screen. With agenda, meeting documents, glossaries and online ressources, it is hard to squeeze everything onto a display not much bigger than a regular sheet of paper.

– Exchange plattform: Simultaneous interpreters in the booth like to use a sheet of paper as a kind of exchange platform to ask for coffee, write down when to change turns and note down difficult terms, numbers etc. to support each other, check dublin locksmith.

– Permanent visibility: Once written down on paper, information doesn’t usually disappear from our view easily, something that may well happen on a computer.

– Document handling: When working with different documents (original and translation of speeches, draft agreements, legislative texts), they can be arranged on a desk (if not too small) in a way to find one’s way through them and/or share them with the colleague who is busy interpreting in order to find the right page or line for her o him.

– Input: The input function of pen and paper is just very intuitive.

These were my main conclusions from this lovely little study. If you want to know all the details, I encourage you to read the full article, which was published in the Proceedings of the 40th Conference Translating and the Computer, London, UK, November 15-16, 2018, p 132-144. All the slides are also available for download.

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

Neurophysiologie des Simultandolmetschens | Neurophysiology of simultaneous interpreting – by Eliza Kalderon

+++ for English, scroll down +++

Etwa eineinhalb Jahre nach Beenden der Promotion freue ich mich über die Möglichkeit, im Blog meiner Kollegin, die das Projekt „Neurophysiologie des Simultandolmetschens: eine fMRI-Studie mit Konferenzdolmetschern“ von Anfang an voller Begeisterung und Engagement unterstützte, eines der spannendsten Ergebnisse vorstellen zu dürfen.

Die drei nachfolgenden Abbildungen stellen sogenannte Render-Bilder dar, d. h. dass die 3D-Bilder jeder einzelnen Versuchsperson zu einer Bildsynthese zusammengefasst wurden, da der wiederkehrende Wert sowie die Suche nach übereinstimmenden neuronalen Mustern in den untersuchten Leistungen im Mittelpunkt des wissenschaftlichen Interesses standen.

In den Bedingungen wurden Masken, sogenannte regions of interest (ROI), angewandt, in denen das Simultandolmetschen im Vergleich zu einer weiteren Aufgabe stand – in unserem Fall im Vergleich zum Shadowing. Durch diese Masken kann die Kalkulation der Gehirnaktivierung auf eine definierte anatomische Region eingegrenzt werden. Anhand der verwendeten Maskierung konnte also die Aktivität bestimmter Aktivierungscluster, die zum Broca- bzw. zum Wernicke-Areal gehören, bestimmt werden.

Abbildung 1 – DE>ES

In Abbildung 1 wurde die Mehraktivierung beim Simultandolmetschen aus dem Deutschen ins Spanische und das Simultandolmetschen aus dem Spanischen ins Deutsche ohne Maskierung kontrastiert, das heißt mit Abbildung der Aktivierung über das ganze Gehirn.

Beim Vergleich der Dolmetschrichtung wird die vom Simultandolmetschen aus dem Spanischen ins Deutsche hervorgerufene Gerhirnaktivierung von dem Simultandolmetschen aus dem Deutschen ins Spanische subtrahiert. Unter diesen zwei getesteten Bedingungen haben die Probanden eine Rede aus ihrer Muttersprache Deutsch in ihre aktive Fremdsprache (B-Sprache, Spanisch) gedolmetscht beziehungsweise in der anderen Bedingung eine Rede aus dem Spanischen ins Deutsche gedolmetscht. Die Abbildung zeigt, dass beim Simultandolmetschen in die spanische Sprache das Gehirn der deutschmuttersprachlichen Konferenzdolmetscher beidhemisphärisch im primären motorischen somatosensorischen Kortex aktiviert wurde.

Das bedeutet, dass deutschmuttersprachliche Dolmetscher für die Artikulation im Spanischen mehr Mundmotorik aktivieren als beim Simultandolmetschen in ihre Muttersprache. Das bedeutet wiederum, dass sie für die Performanz in der spanischen Sprache mehr Kontrolle über die Sprachmuskulatur brauchen. Zu beobachten war weiterhin eine Aktivierung im medialen superioren Frontallappen. In diesem Areal ist das strategische Denken (prospective memory, BURGESS et al. 2011) angesiedelt.

Abbildung 2 – ES>DE

In Abbildung 2 ist der umgekehrte Kontrast dargestellt, die Mehraktivierung beim Simultandolmetschen aus dem Spanischen ins Deutsche, das heißt, von der neuronalen Aktivität beim Simultandolmetschen aus dem Spanischen ins Deutsche wurde die neuronale Aktivität aus dem Deutschen ins Spanische subtrahiert. Sie zeigt eine Aktivierung des inferioren Temporallappens, in dem visuelle Informationen verarbeitet werden.

Es ist auch die Aktivierung eines Areals im medialen präfrontalen Kortex zu beobachten, der mit dem prospektiven Denken in Verbindung gebracht wird (vgl. BURGESS et al. 2011). Dort legt man sich Handlungsstrategien zurecht. Bei der Verdolmetschung ins Spanische sind sie sprachlich-motorischer Natur (beansprucht wird also das motorische Arbeitsgedächtnis; ein analoges Ergebnis findet sich bei TOMMOLA et al. 2000: 162).

Abbildung 3 stellt eine Zusammenfassung der beiden vorherigen Abbildungen dar. Hier wurde das Simultandolmetschen in beide Sprachrichtungen in einem Bild gegenübergestellt. Die rot markierten Areale stellen die Mehraktivierung beim Simultandolmetschen aus dem Deutschen ins Spanische dar, die blauen das Simultandolmetschen vom Spanischen ins Deutsche.

Abbildung 3 – Vergleich

Wie man sieht, wurden beim Simultandolmetschen ins Spanische besonders die motorischen Areale beansprucht. In der umgekehrten Sprachrichtung dominieren eine rechtsseitige Aktivierung im inferioren Temporallappen sowie ein aktiviertes Cluster im medialen Präfrontalkortex.

Diese Bilder lieferten uns ein überraschendes und unerwartetes Ergebnis: Dass selbst das trainierte Gehirn von Konferenzdolmetschern eine immense Menge an Kapazitäten für die Artikulation in der Fremdsprache benötigt.

Wer das komplette Studiendesign sowie alle Ergebnisse nachlesen möchte, kann gerne den folgenden frei zugänglichen Link anklicken.

Und last, but not least, möchte ich mich noch einmal bei Anja Rütten und all den Kolleginnen und Kollegen herzlich bedanken, dass sie die lange Fahrt nach Homburg (Saar) auf sich genommen haben, um die Studie und die beeindruckenden Ergebnisse zu ermöglichen.

+++ English version +++

About one and a half years after the project’s completion, I am particularly pleased to present one of the most fascinating results of my doctoral research about neurophysiological processes in simultaneous intepreting on the blog of my colleague, who provided enthusiastic and committed support to this research project from the outset.

The three images below are what is referred to as “render images”: They represent a 3D synthesis of each individual subject in a single image as this research primarily focussed on recurring values and identifying neuronal patterns in the performance analysed.

Masks were applied to the different tasks to outline what is known as regions of interest (ROI). This served to contrast simultaneous interpreting and a second task – shadowing in our case. With the help of these masks, it became possible to limit the calculation of brain activation to a defined anatomic region. This allowed to specify the attribution of an activation and its localisation. It was thus possible to determine the activity outlined after masking of certain activation clusters attributed to Broca’s area or Wernicke’s area.

Figure 1 – DE>ES

Figure 1 shows the contrast in activation between simultaneous interpreting from German into Spanish and simultaneous interpreting from Spanish into German without masking. In other words, it shows the activation of the entire brain.

For a comparison of interpreting directions, the brain activation caused by simultaneous interpreting from Spanish into German was subtracted from that caused by simultaneous interpreting from German into Spanish. In the two tested settings, the subjects were asked to interpret a speech from their mother tongue (German) into their active working language (“B language”, Spanish) and, for the reverse setting, from Spanish into German. The image shows bi-hemispheric activation of the primary motor somatosensory cortex of the brain of a German native conference interpreter when interpreting into Spanish.

This implies that a German native conference interpreter requires stronger activation of mouth movement when articulating in Spanish than when simultaneously interpreting into their mother tongue. This in turn implies that they need stronger control of the muscles in their vocal tracts for a performance in Spanish. Furthermore, activation in the medial superior frontal lobe was observed. This is the area were strategic thinking (prospective memory BURGESS et al. 2011) is located.

Figure 2 – ES>DE

Figure 2 shows the reverse contrast, namely the stronger activation linked to simultaneous interpreting from Spanish into German. This is the result of subtracting the neuronal activity related to German into Spanish from the neuronal activity caused by interpreting from Spanish into German. It illustrates an activation of the inferior temporal lobe which is where visual input is processed.

We can observe an activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, which is associated with prospective memory (BURGESS et al. 2011). This area is responsible for developing strategies for action. These strategies are of motor-linguistic nature when interpreting into Spanish (it is the motor working memory which is responsible; TOMMOLA et al. 2000:162 draw similar conclusions).

The final image summarises the two previous images. It contrasts the process of simultaneous interpretation in both language directions. Areas marked in red represent stronger activation during simultaneous interpretation from German into Spanish. Areas in blue mark simultaneous interpreting from Spanish into German.

Figure 3 – Comparison

It is evident that simultaneous interpreting into Spanish particularly engages the motor brain areas. The dominant activation areas in the reverse language direction are in the right inferior temporal lobe and a cluster in the medial prefrontal cortex.

These images provided a surprising and unexpected finding: Even a practiced conference interpreter uses large amounts of capacity for articulating in the foreign language, check painter dublin.

If you are interested in reading the complete research design and all other findings, you are welcome to follow this link (free access).

Last but certainly not least I would like to thank Anja Rütten and all other colleagues for taking the long journey to Homburg (Saar) to participate in this experiment and making these impressive results possible.


BURGESS, B.W.; GONEN-YAACOVI, G.; VOLLE, E. (2011): „Functional neuroimaging studies of prospective memory: What have we learnt so far?”. Neuropsychologia 49. 2246-2257
TOMMOLA, J.; LAINE, M.; SUNNARI, M.; RINNE, J. (2000): „The translating brain: cerebral activation patterns during simultaneous interpreting”. Neuroscience Letters 294(2). 85-88

Macht mehr Monotasking?

Ich kann es ja eigentlich nicht mehr hören: „Wir fummeln viel zu oft an unseren Handys herum! Wir sind immer abgelenkt. Wir müssen mal wieder ein Buch umarmen! Und in ein Geschäft gehen!“ Hallo? WIR sind erwachsen und lieben Computer und Handys auch, weil sie einen Ausknopf haben. Den haben nämlich weder Aktenberge noch vollgestopfte Schaufenster oder Fußgängerzonen. Also.

Eine Frage in dieser Wir-sind-viel-zu-abgelenkt-Diskussion finde ich allerdings doch interessant: Können wir chronischen Multitasker denn überhaupt Monotasking? Nicht wir im Sinne von digital-verdorbene Mitglieder der Gesellschaft, nein, wir als Simultandolmetscher. Wir verstehen, speichern und formulieren Inhalte ja fortwährend gleichzeitig, in zwei Sprachen, und es wurden sogar schon Kollegen gesichtet, die währenddessen (!) noch Vokabeln recherchieren, Flüge buchen oder Sudoku spielen. Selbst, wenn wir gerade nicht aktiv dolmetschen, hören wir … sorry, höre ich oft mit einem Ohr dem Redner zu und schaue mit dem anderen Ohr Dinge nach, die mich interessieren, lese Zeitung oder schreibe Mails. Erst am Nachmittag reiße ich mir dann auch schon mal die Kopfhörer ab und schließe die Augen oder starre  vor mich hin.

Bei dieser Frage nach dem Monotasking bin ich vor einiger Zeit auf einen sehr interessanten Artikel gestoßen, der die umgekehrte Frage stellt: Kann der Mensch überhaupt Multitasking? Laut dort zitierter Studie sind tatsächlich weniger als drei Prozent aller Menschen  wirklich multitasking-fähig. Alle anderen hüpfen nur mehr oder minder geschickt zwischen den verschiedenen Aufgaben hin und her und büßen dabei an Leistungsfähigkeit (hier simuliertes Autofahren und Merkaufgaben mit zwischengeschalteten Rechenaufgaben) deutlich ein (Strayer and Watson 2010). Nun sind sicher weniger als 2,5 % der Weltbevölkerung Simultandolmetscher, deshalb können wir uns einfach einbilden, wir fallen alle in diese 2,5%-Gruppe. Wer es aber genau wissen möchte, für den gibt es tatsächlich einen web-basierten Test, bei dem Ihr herausfinden könnt, ob Ihr ein „supertasker“ seid oder nicht.

Nun sind wir Menschen aber nicht nur mehrheitlich nicht fürs Multitasking gemacht, nein, es beeinträchtigt uns offensichtlich auch in unserer Monotasking-Leistungsfähigkeit. In einer Studie von Ophir, Nass und Wagner 2009 zum Thema „macht Multitasking blöd“ wurden „heavy media multitaskers“ und „light media multitaskers“ verglichen und es war festzustellen, dass HMM leichter abzulenken waren, wenn sie sich auf eine Aufgabe konzentrieren sollten, gleichzeitig waren sie beim Wechseln zwischen verschiedenen Aufgaben schlechter als die LMM.

Drastischer noch drückt es Sandra Bond Chapman in ihrem Artikel Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter aus: „Multitasking is a brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness. Chronic multitaskers also have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.“

Warum tun wir uns das Multitasking denn dann überhaupt an, wenn es Stress verursacht und die geistige Leistungsfähigkeit beeinträchtigt? Ganz einfach: Neben den Stresshormonen sind auch noch die Glückshormone im Spiel. Beim Multitasking wird Dopamin ausgeschüttet, wir werden quasi für die ständige Erledigung kleiner Aufgaben belohnt. Was ein Grund dafür sein könnte, dass man sich den Stress des Multitaskings überhaupt freiwillig antut bzw. das Monotasking eventuell verlernt. Oder während des Dolmetschens Sudoku spielt.

Stellt sich die Frage, ob diese Erkenntnisse – die vorwiegend aus dem Blickwinkel des Medienkonsums zu sehen sind – sich auf das Simultandolmetschen übertragen lassen … Sucht vielleicht jemand noch ein Thema für eine Masterarbeit?

Über die Autorin:
Anja Rütten ist freiberufliche Konferenzdolmetscherin für Deutsch (A), Spanisch (B), Englisch (C) und Französisch (C) in Düsseldorf. Sie widmet sich seit Mitte der 1990er dem Wissensmanagement.




Word Clouds – much nicer than Word Lists

I have been wondering for quite some time if word lists are the best thing I can come up with as a visual support in the booth. They are not exactly appealing to the eye, after all …

So I started to play around with word cloud generators a bit to see if they are of any use. Here comes a short summary of my conclusions:

The tool I liked most was WordItOut by Enideo from the UK. You can copy and paste text or tables easily and create nice word clouds in no time.

I tested it with three kinds of documents:

  1. My personal glossary
  2. Plain text
  3. Term extraction results from SketchEngine

Personal short glossary

I like to create a shortlist of my most-important-to-remember terms and have it on display permanently in the booth. Usually, there are no more than 10 to 20 terms on this list. So I copied in a short sample glossary with numbers from 1 to 10 added behind the terms (indicating frequency but meaning importance) and the result was this:

OK, it’s monolingual, but why not add some colour to the booth and print a second one?

Of course it does not help if you don’t know the equivalents. But especially when working mainly into one target language, some colleagues tend to write down terms in their target language anyway (more insight about this subject to be published in autumn!).

And if you really like a fancy booth decoration, you can always do some manual work and create a table with the equivalents in your working languages in one field

and get your bilingual word cloud:

By the way, you can choose the font and colour or simply press the „regenerate“ button again and again until you like what you get.

My conclusion: I love it! Easy enough to use from time to time as a nice booth decoration – or use it as a desktop wallpaper, for that matter.

Plain text

When using plain text, words are displayed in varying sizes depending on their frequency in the text. While this is not as useful as term extraction, where terms are extracted based on much more complicated algorithms, it still gives you an idea of what the most frequent words in the text are. This can be useful, for example, for target language vocabulary activation (or when learning a new language?).

One downside, however, is that multi-word terms like “circular economy” are torn apart, so you would need to post-edit the list of words adding a ~ between the words you wish to be kept together.

Another problem is that when using any language other than English, no stop word list is pre-determined (you can add one, though). This means that, for example in German, you end up getting a cloud of der, die, das, und, er, sie, es, aber, weil, doch.

My conclusion: A lot of potential but little real use cases.

Term extraction results

The nicest thing is of course to have an extraction tool with a built-in word cloud generator, like SDL Trados Studio has.

But if you use other term extraction tools, you can still copy the extraction results into the word cloud generator. I used a term list extracted by SketchEngine,  copied in the list of extracted terms plus scores and the result was this:

Multi word terms are no problem at all, and the size of the terms varies according to the scores calculated by SketchEngine for each term, check out carpet cleaners dublin. Much more relevant than frequency in most cases …

My conclusion: Very nice!

PS: If you are interested in terminology extraction for interpreters, Josh Goldsmith is conducting an interesting study on this subject. First results may be expected to be presented in November at the 2nd Cologne Conference on Translation, Interpreting and Technical Documentation (CGN18).


About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

How to measure the efficiency of your conference preparation

Half of the time we dedicate to a specific interpreting assignment is often spent on preparation. But while many a thought is given to the actual interpreting performance and the different ways to evaluate it, I hardly ever hear anyone discuss their (or others‘) preparation performance. However, if we want to be good information and knowledge managers rather than mere information and knowledge workers, we need to close the management cycle and put extra effort into checking if our work serves its purpose and making possible adjustments to optimise it.

Efficiency being the ratio between input and output (how much do you spend to make a dollar?), the question now is what to measure in the first place. Admittedly, the efficiency of information and knowledge work is not the easiest thing to measure. Apart from the fact that whilst interpreting we have other things to worry about, it is hard to tell the difference between the way we actually interpret and the way we would have done without the most essential part of our information work, i.e. preparation. Strictly speaking, previous work experience and knowledge acquired outside the interpreter’s professional life also count as „preparation“ and can even be more helpful than preparation in the stricter sense.

To put the concept of efficiency of information and knowledge work in conference interpreting into measurable terms, it could be reduced to the following question:

How much time do you spend to make a useful information unit?

As it happens, back in 2006 I conducted a case study to check exactly this: a conference interpreter’s preparation effort in relation to its usefulness. As a baseline, I decided to use the terminology prepared for a technical meeting, assuming that this is what comes closest to a quantifiable amount of information. Even if preparation is not all about terminology (or glossaries), it is an important part, and if it is well done, it covers semantics and context information as well.

So in order to get a number representing the output, I simply counted all the terminological units prepared for one meeting (376) and afterwards had the interpreter count those units that actually came up in the meeting (197) so that the terms prepared „in vain“ could be deducted. I then calculated the percentage of the used terms in relation the total amount of elaborated terms, the so called usage rate. In the case study the overall usage rate at the conference at hand was 52%. The usage rate of terminology from a previous conference of the same client about the same subject was 48 % (81 out of 168 terminological units). This has of course no statistical significance whatsoever, but it can surely be a useful indicator for the individual interpreter. And interestingly, when repeating this exercise with my students from now and then, the results are usually of a similar order of magnitude.

Once the output (terms used) has been determined, it can be related to the input. Assuming that the input is mainly the time spent on preparing the terminological units that came up in the conference, this time is divided by the terms used in order to obtain the relative or average time spent per terminological unit. This value can be considered an approximation to the efficiency of the interpreter’s information work. In the case study the average time spent per term used was 5 minutes (9.5 hours for 113 terms). When repeating this exercise with students, this value usually ranges roughly from 1 to 10 minutes.

Such numbers of course merely serve to quantify the information work we do. In order to really complete the management cycle and find out in how far preparation could possibly be optimised, a closer look needs to be taken at the quality of information and knowledge gaps that occur during the interpreting assignment at hand and how they are or could be handled – which is a different story altogether.


Informations- und Wissensmanagement im Konferenzdolmetschen. Sabest 15. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. [dissertation]

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.