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Towards an inclusive mould of translation and interpretation requisite competence

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This piece of research will address the concept of requisite competence in translation and interpretation. Competence is a broad concept which signifies certain sorts of expertise and aptitude that language users (e.g. translators, interpreters, foreign language speakers/learners) in the general sense need to master. Professional translators and interpreters work within the realm of interlingual communication. Translation and interpretation share basic grounds (competences), thus, they intersect at some points and diverse in others. Translation is the written version of interlingual communicative realm which calls for comprehensive mastery of the writing skills including the faculty of synthesizing, eloquence, spelling, punctuation, and others, whereas interpreting is the oral version of translation which requires, among others, oral communicative skills in the working languages, intellectual merits, and certain cognitive skills. The requisite competence for both translation and interpretation has always been on-the-spot and debatable. Consequently, this study has been designed to develop an inclusive mould of translation and interpretation mutual and distinctive competences.

Key words: Language competence, Translation competence, Interpretation competence, and Models of Competence.

1. Introduction

In the mid 1960s, the concept of competence was, admittedly, first tackled by some formal linguists (e.g. Chomsky, 1965) whose main interest at that time was to define and classify linguistic competence. In the past two decades, research into translation and interpretation competence theories flourished manifestly. However, some features of this field are still thrust and questionable, for instance, the optimal requisite competence for professional translators and interpreters. Competence in the field of translation and interpretation is crucial, since it mirrors the summation of translators and interpreters’ training, experience, as well as their aptitude to embark on this profession. Many theorists have developed various catalogues of translators and interpreters’ competences paying attention to the requirement of professional translators and interpreters (Kermis, 2008). This may raise two critical questions; is there a fixed catalogue of professional translators and interpreters’ requisite competence? Is translators and interpreters’ competence of a diachronic nature?

Pym (2003) maintains that translation competence may change to keep up with advancing technology and social demands. This might explain the title he chose for his paper (redefining translation competence in an electronic age). Therefore, translation and interpretation required competence may need to be redefined and remoulded to keep up with any potential change in technologies and societies. In what follows, we report on our research into professional translators and interpreters requisite competence. First, we will present some salient definitions and classifications of translation competence, then; look at some traditional and diachronic views in addition to some moot points among translation and interpretation scholars on the models of professional translators and interpreters’ competence. Second, we describe and compare comparatively translation scholars, interpretation scholars, and neurolinguists’ stands of competence. After that a synoptic mould of professional translators and interpreters’ requisite competence will be put forward.

2. Translation Competence Defined

Translation is now becoming more than a minor subject matter studied in languages and linguistics; it has been mushrooming remarkably over the past decades as a major discipline and interest of different scholars as they realize the significance of this discipline in bridging contacts between nations worldwide. Translation in the general sense is not an easy task; it requires high level of proficiency in SL and TL. This proficiency must base on several types of competence. There is no precise definition of competence, since this issue has been approached in many different trends whose main focus was to define and determine what the translation competences are. Šeböková (2010) states that:

It is quite difficult to evaluate a concept that was yet neither agreed upon, nor properly defined. Different scholars perceive this construct differently. Even the term itself has several varieties, respective authors call it translation competence (Vienne: 2000) translational competence (Neubert: 2000), translational knowledge (Pym: 1992) or translation skill (Sim: 2000). Although most of the authors dealing with translation competence agree that linguistic competence is essential for TC, some include it in their models and definitions and others put it aside as a necessary prerequisite, nevertheless not a part of TC. (p. 5)

Chomsky (1965) reveals that linguistic competence is the perfect knowledge of an ideal user of the language in a homogeneous speech community. His eminent distinction between competence (the speaker-listener’s knowledge of language) and performance (the actual use of language knowledge in real life situations) arouses the interests of many scholars to find out what are the parameters of this perfect knowledge (competence). Meetham and Hudson (1969) define translation as the process of converting information from one language or language variety into another. They assert that the aim of that is to produce as precisely as possible all grammatical and lexical features of the SL original by finding equivalents in the TL, while all factual information contained in the original text must be kept in the translation. During the 1970s and 1980s many applied linguists with a primary interest in the theory of language acquisition and the theory of language testing gave their valuable contribution to the further development of the concept of competence (Bagarić and Mihaljević Djigunović, 2007).

Communicative competences, the applied linguists Canale and Swain (1980) and Canale (1983) argue, are classified into (1) grammatical competence (e.g. language learner’s knowledge of phonology, syntax, the morphology and so forth), (2) sociolinguistic competence (e.g. discourse competence and pragmatic competence), (3) strategic competence. On the other hand, Bell’s holistic view of defining competence is even more illustrative and descriptive. According to Bell (1991, p. 43), translation competence is defined as “the knowledge and skills the translator must possess in order to carry out a translation.” He also signifies that it encompasses TL knowledge, text-type knowledge, SL knowledge, subject area knowledge, contrastive knowledge, and decoding and encoding process skills summarized as “communicative competence” including grammar, sociolinguistics and discourse.

In contrast, Neubert (1994: 412), offers three main components of competence; language competence, subject competence and transfer competence. Celce-Murcia et al. (1995) (as cited in Celce-Murcia, 2007) propose that actional competence (the ability to comprehend and produce all significant speech acts and speech act sets) should also be part of communicative competence. These scholars made two important changes in terminology of the Canale-Swain’s model (1980): (1) that sociolinguistic competence be modified into sociocultural competence (the cultural background knowledge needed to interpret and use a language effectively) and (2) that grammatical competence be re-labeled as linguistic competence to explicitly include the sound system and the lexicon, as well as the grammar (e.g. morphology and syntax) (p. 42). Similarly, some translation scholars provided some definitions of the concept competence from translation perspective. Just to name a few, Hurtado Albir defines it as “the ability of knowing how to translate” (1996, p. 48). Schäffner and Beverly (2000) conclude that the theory of translation could best be taught, in order to better develop the different skills acquired in one or more foreign languages and cultures, in conjunction with the mother tongue, for the purpose of more effective communication. In line with Schäffner and Beverly, Neubert (2000) on the other hand, elaborates that the practice of translation and, hence, teaching translation require a single competence that could be deemed to integrate a set of competencies that include, for instance, competence in both the source (SL) and the target languages (TL).

Another inclusive view of translation competence is that of PACTE research (2000, 2005, 2011), PACTE defines translation competence as “the underlying system of knowledge and skills needed to be able to translate.” Neubert (2000) sums up that the complexity of demands that are made on the cognitive faculties and skills of a translator, the heterogeneity, and the approximate nature of the translators’ knowledge must be taken into consideration before defining translators’ competence. Therefore, Neubert offers the following five parameters for the definition of translation competence:

1)      Language competence – this sub-competence encompasses the grammatical knowledge. Besides, knowledge of repertoires of the languages for special purposes, for instance, terminologies, syntactic and morphological conventions.

2)      Textual competence – this sub-competence is overlapped in one way or another with the linguistic competence, and characterized by specialized proficiencies in various domains, for instance, technical, legal or literary fields, and so forth.

3)      Subject competence – it is related to textual competence; it represents the familiarity with what constitutes the over all body of the translation area. This concept covers specialist knowledge; therefore, if the specialist knowledge is of high dimensions, the subject competence will not be at stake.

4)      Cultural competence – this sub-competence emphasizes the significance for translators to be fully acquainted with cultural shackles of both the SL and TL, as they have to mediate between various cultural backgrounds.

5)      Transfer competence – this includes the tactics used that convert a message from L1 to L2; it is the ability to perform translation as such quickly and efficiently. It dominates all other sub-competences; for instance, it incorporates language, subject, and cultural knowledge with the aim of fulfilling transfer demands. (Neubert, 2000, p. 9-15).

The PACTE group is markedly active in this issue; their definition of translation competence can be viewed as inclusive. This group defines translation competence as "the underlying system of knowledge and skills needed to be able to translate" (PACTE, 2005, p. 610). The PACTE model (2003) (as cited in PACET, 2005, p. 610 and in PACTE, 2011, p. 4-5) and based on their empirical experimental approach concludes that the translation competence includes the following components; bilingual sub-competence, extra-linguistic sub-competence, knowledge about translation, instrumental sub-competence, strategic sub-competence, and psycho-physiological components.

Gile’s approach (2004) in determining translators and interpreters’ competences was totally different from others; he affirms on the kinship and partnership between translation and interpretation though the process is different, thus, he classifies the required competences and skills based on the nature of differences between translation and interpretation process which are as follows:

1)      Differences in technical constraints: translators usually have hours, days, weeks or longer to deal with problems encountered, whereas interpreters only have few seconds or minutes depending on whether they are working in simultaneous or in consecutive mode.

2)      Differences in the working environment: In (business) translation, the main source of stress is the required speed of processing and associated fatigue. In conference interpreting, stress may originate in stage fright at high-level meetings or when interpreting for the media, especially in view of the fact that, unlike translators, interpreters cannot correct their initial utterance, and also in the physical environment in the booth. In court interpreting and dialogue interpreting of various types, for instance, much stress is inherent due to the situation environment. conference interpreting, Gile argues, is often associated with an exciting, sometimes glamorous working environment: presidential palaces, international conferences on highly visible, highly topical issues and events, international festivals and sports events, the possibility of meeting and sometimes talking face-to-face with well-known personalities.

3)      Product differences: The product of interpretation is an oral, which is mentally processed by the listener as soon as it is heard (or seen), at a rate determined by its rate of delivery, generally in the original communication situation. It is highly personal, as its perception by the user of the interpreting service depends not only on its content and linguistic choices in terms of ‘words’ but also on the quality of the interpreter’s voice and on various delivery parameters, including accent, intonation, pauses, articulation speed, etc., where as the product of translation is a written text, which is read at the speed chosen by the reader, as many times as the reader wishes and potentially in any communication or non-communication situation.

4)      Skills and personality differences: Both translators and interpreters have to be familiar with the respective norms of their professional environments with respect to the requirements of professional translation/interpretation. This includes the acceptability and relative merits of various strategies to help them cope with translation/interpretation problems. Translators are required to produce editorially acceptable written text, while interpreters produce spoken text for immediate processing by listeners. Translators, therefore, have to be good writers and not necessarily good speakers, while interpreters have to be good speakers (and, in dialogue interpreting, good social mediators) but not necessarily good writers. Interpreters have to master the oral form of their passive languages, including various accents, well enough to process them rapidly and without difficulty. Translators do not need to understand their passive languages as they are spoken. Neither do they require the same immediate comprehension and processing ability, since they have some leeway to deal with comprehension problems by taking more time and consulting various sources of help (Gile, 1995) (as cited in Gile, 2004, p. 12-13).

In closing, though many scholars vary in their understanding and access of the definition and classification of translation competence, they share one basic point that competence is based primarily on linguistic competence in SL and TL. What differs is the details; minor or sub competences such as, culture, transfer, and so forth. In what follows the researchers will highlight different models of translation competence using diagrams to better understand their stands of this issue.

3. Translation Competence Modelled

As a result of the aforementioned divergence in the definition and classification of translation competence, modeling of translation competence has also diversified. This divergence gave rise to two prominent trends of modeling translation competence; among others, pedagogical and empirical models of translation competence. We will illuminate briefly these two major trends, and how they were structured.

3.1 Pedagogical Models

These models were structured as an attempt to improve the level of translation majors, and their theoretical and methodological background was pedagogical based. This trend caught the fancy of some salient scholars who are interested in the educational context of translation i.e., Christina Schäffner, Olivia Fox, and others.

3.1.1 Schäffner’s Model

Schäffner was aware of the complexity of the concept of competence along with the factors that impede the production of TL. Consequently, she advanced a model that can describe and monitor this process. This model is as follows:

1)      Linguistic competence – in the languages concerned.

2)      Cultural competence – general knowledge about historical, political, economic, cultural, and so forth.

3)      Textual competence – knowledge of regularities and conventions of texts, genres, text types.

4)      Domain/subject specific competence – knowledge of the relevant subject, the area of expertise.

5)      (Re)search competence – general strategy competence whose aim is the ability to resolve problems specific to the cross-cultural transfer of texts.

6)      Transfer competence – ability to produce TTs that satisfy the demands of the translation task (Schäffner 2000: 146).

These competencies are interconnected together depending on a given translation task type. Schäffner signifies that transfer and research competences are of a transitory, procedural and dynamic nature, the other competences are of static nature. Schäffner reveals that translation competence can not be scrutinized apart from other requisite concepts that are associated with the task of translation mainly knowledge (declarative knowledge and operative knowledge), skills, awareness, and expertise and their integration influence on translators’ performance (Schäffner & Beverly, 2000).

3.1.2 Olivia’s Model

Based on her observation, Olivia Fox (2000) expounds some negative aspects of translation performance in translation students. As a result, she developed the following model of translation competence:

1)      Communicative competence – awareness towards the purpose of translation task and the situation resulting in the ability to produce an adequate TT.

2)      Socio-cultural competence – awareness of the socio-cultural context in which the ST emerged and an ability to comprehend texts in TL and SL culture.

3)      Language and cultural awareness – being aware of how language/s work and conveys meaning and an ability to produce TTs that meet the linguistic and cultural expectations of target audience.

4)      Learning-how to learn – an awareness of different resources and how to use them and how to record ones observations.

5)      Problem-solving goals – awareness of situational, linguistic, cultural or textual problems and being able to solve them (Fox; Schäffner & Beverly, 2000: 117).

All the preceding models were pedagogical based and share some common features especially problem solving process. Šeböková (2010) criticizes these pedagogical models by claiming that both of Schäffner’s transfer sub-competence and Fox’s communicative sub-competence are described in similar terms. However, transfer represents more technical concept and is to be perceived as one of the aspects of communication. Šeböková’s claim seems consistent with Martinez Melis and Hurtado Albir’s view (2001) that transfer competence plays a crucial role in translation because it brings together all the other sub-competencies. Therefore, Šeböková (2010) developed a new model of translation competence which is characterized inclusive in our temporaneous time. In what follows we will present her model briefly, then, move on to empirical models to have holistic view before starting our comparison.

3.1.3 Šeböková’s Model

Šeböková (2010, p. 56-57) focused purely on translation competence that translators must master during their training, therefore and based on her observation, she developed the following model which is product-oriented and binary errors based.

1)      Core Translation competence: is twofold and includes both practice and theory. Its integral part is formed by Pym’s definition of TC. Translation competence is central to the model, it integrates and activates all the other sub-competencies, and it mediates between all other sub competences as a make up tool.

2)      Linguistic competence: represents the competence in two languages – L1 and L2

3)      World/Subject competence – this binary competence reflects the fact that most (non-literary) texts pertain to a single world; however, they might concern several subjects.

4)      Research competence – the ability to gather complementary materials and use research tools that will help trainees to deal with the translation task and adequately solve translation problems.

5)      Tools competence – the ability to use various tools that will help trainees facilitate translation tasks (e.g. word processor to translation memories or CAT tools).

6)      Cultural competence – the knowledge of the cultural background (s) pertaining to given text-in situation.

We would like her to clarify that some scholars use the concept of language competence in dissimilar terminologies, for instance, linguistic competence i.e., Chomsky (1965), communicative competence with reference to foreign language learning i.e., Canale and Swain (1980), Celce-Murcia et al (1995), Rababah (2002), and others, while other scholars use the concept translation competence with reference to translation i.e., Campbell (1991), Schäffner (2000), Olivia Fox (2000), PACTE, ( 2005, 2011). Other scholars, on the other hand, use the concept interpretation competence/skills with reference to interpretation i.e., Gile (2004, 2005, 2009), Pöchhacker (2004), and others. Nonetheless, and irrespective of the different terminologies, it seems that they are the same with different functions (foreign language learning, translation, and/or interpretation)

3.2. Empirical Models

In the past few decades, empirical experimental research has been carried out to examine translation competence and process. This trend investigated empirically various fields in translation and interpretation at the same time, i.e., the unity of translation, the role of linguistic and non linguistic knowledge, problem solving and decision making. creativity in translation, ear voice span and the temporal distance between speakers and interpreter, the speed of reformulation, pause analysis, memory span, segmentation of input, attention, etc. (Hurtado Albir and Alves, 2009). They also maintain that the empirical research interest on written translation started before three decades based primarily on Think Aloud Protocol (TAP) which was adopted by some scholars, among others, Lorscher (1991), Fraser (1993), Atari (2005); however, TAPs remained the major and only source of process-oriented approach till the late 1990s.

On the side of interpretation, alternatively, Gile (1995, 2009) reveals that the first empirical studies in simultaneous interpretation were conducted in the past five decades; these studies were characterized interdisciplinary studies between language, interpretation, and psychology and focused on the following spots; temporal distance between speakers and interpreter, the speech of reformulation on the comparison between rhythmical patterns in speech and in spontaneous speech, the segmentation of input, the speed of speaker delivery, and anticipation.

Empirical research, in the mid 1990s, paid more emphasis on the use of various data elicitation tools and multi-methodological perspectives which integrates other disciplines, as a result, research into written translation has dictated to investigate the followings, among others, (1) the use of TAPs (Jakobsen 2003); (2) contrastive performance between novice and expert translators and bilinguals and other language professionals (e.g. PACET 2005, 2007); (3) the mapping of translators’ cognitive rhythms i.e., pause analysis and of the different phases of the translation process (e.g. Hasen, 2006); (4) analysis of the components of translation competence (e.g. PACET, 2003, 2005, 2007) (Hurtado Albir and Alves, 2009, p. 70). Consequently, different empirical models of translation competence have been outlined.

These models differ from the pedagogical ones in that they were based on empirical studies to structure optimal models of translation competence i.e., Campbell, PACET group, and others. These scholars, using special testing tools, structured their models based on their empirical findings and observations on the participants. In the following sections, the researchers will present in brief these empirical models, more specifically, Campbell and PACTE group models.

3.2.1 Campbell’s Model

In his study, "Towards a Model of Translation Competence", Campbell (1991) argues that translation competence can be best recognized through translation tests which helps outline the typical model of translation competence which, in turn, reflects the actual process of translation. He characterized this notion in his statement "DETERMINING TRANSLATION COMPETENCE THROUGH TRANSLATION TESTS." (1991, p. 329)

So as to validate his endeavor in modeling translation competence, he scrutinized 40 solutions of a single sentence that was included in an Arabic ST used for translation test from Arabic the source language (SL) to English the target language (TL). His test based on the degree of difficulty of lexical items and grammatical structures. He based on the product phenomena view in characterizing the degree of items difficulty opted for the test. Moreover, his analytic approach was error detecting based using special empirical tool that he termed Mean Lean Agreement (MLA). Campbell’s model at the end was structured based on his findings. He suggests the following model for translation competence:

a)      Disposition – attitudes and psychological qualities that the translator brings to the task.

b)      Proficiency – has to do with certain special bilingual skills, and has a developmental dimension. Proficiency proposed aspects are lexical coding of meaning, global target language competence and lexical transfer. (Campbell 1991, p. 339)

Campbell’s model and the way in which it was arrived at are to some extent satisfactory. However, Šeböková (2010) comments on this model by claiming that a vital aspect, that needs to be emphasized concerning translation competence models, is the attitudinal and psychological element. In other words, the way pertinent sub-competences manifest are directly or indirectly to some extent influenced by the psychological make-up of translators or translation trainees.

3.2.2 PACTE Model

The PACTE group is very active in finding out (1) what is translation competence? (2) how translation competence can be acquired? (3) and how translation sub-competences integrate and amalgamate with each other? These questions were of a great interest to these scholars. The PACTE methodology in finding out answers to these questions was procedural process based rather than product oriented. Unlike Campbell’s model, the PACET model (2003) (as cited in PACTE, 2011, p. 4) and based on the empirical-research approach, concludes that the translation competence includes five sub-competences, as well as, psycho-physiological components:

1)      Bilingual sub-competence – predominantly procedural knowledge required to communicate in two languages. It comprises pragmatic, socio-linguistic, textual, grammatical and lexical knowledge.

2)      Extra-linguistic sub-competence – predominantly declarative knowledge, both implicit and explicit. It comprises general world knowledge, domain-specific knowledge, bicultural and encyclopaedic knowledge.

3)      Knowledge about translation – predominantly declarative knowledge, both implicit and explicit, about translation and aspects of the profession. It comprises knowledge about how translation functions and knowledge about professional translation practice.

4)      Instrumental sub-competence – predominantly procedural knowledge related to the use of documentation resources and information and communication technologies applied to translation (dictionaries of all kinds, encyclopedias, grammars, style books, parallel texts, electronic corpora, search engines, etc.).

5)      Strategic sub-competence – procedural knowledge to guarantee the efficiency of the translation process and solve problems encountered. This sub-competence serves to control the translation process. Its function is to plan the process and carry out the translation project (selecting the most appropriate method); evaluate the process and the partial results obtained in relation to the final purpose; activate the different sub-competences and compensate for any shortcomings; identify translation problems and apply procedures to solve them.

6)      Psycho-physiological components – different types of cognitive and attitudinal components and psycho-motor mechanisms, including cognitive components such as memory, perception, attention and emotion; attitudinal aspects such as intellectual curiosity, perseverance, rigour, the ability to think critically, etc.; abilities such as creativity, logical reasoning, analysis and synthesis, and so forth. (PACTE, 2011, p. 4-5)

To make their findings about translation competence more illustrative, they came up with the following illustrative model which serves as a flow-chart to better clarify the relation between these competences.

PACTE Model of Translation Competence


Figure 1. PACTE Model of Translation Competence.

Adapted from PACTE (2005, p. 610)

As figure 1 shows, this model signifies the integration and amalgamation between these competences. This model has been amended several times and was exposed to longitudinal study till arrived at as pointed out. In contrast, other models were formulated based on other approaches rather than product oriented and procedural process. Some of these models were grounded on the inversed directionality of translation (e.g. Beeby, 2000), while other prominent scholars specify translation competence based on aptitude layers and command caliber approach, for instance, Daniel Gile (2009, p. 8-10) states that translation and interpretation competence contains four-major aptitudes; (1) good passive knowledge of passive working languages (the ability to understand discourse with which the languages interpreters and translators work), (2) good command of active working languages (usually the native language (NL)), (3) sufficient knowledge of the theme, (4) and knowing how to translate, (4) procedural knowledge (techniques and skills).

To conclude, it is not an easy task to define, classify, or model translation competence as the output of this concept is widely affected by external and internal factors pertaining to the divergence of theoretical basis and methodological approaches; empirical vs. pedagogical and/or product oriented vs. process oriented approach as previously illustrated. However, these models implicitly or explicitly signify the importance of competences’ mastery for translators to fulfill their communicative goals. In what follows, we will present brief stands of interpretation scholars’ models of competence.

3. Interpretation Competence Defined and Modeled

Translators and interpreters are deemed to be mediators between two languages; SL and TL. In principle, both of them must grasp linguistic and other sub-linguistic competences to fulfil their tasks. What differs here is the means; translators fulfil their tasks via written discourse and often have ample time to consult their dictionaries and other sources and to think critically about the context of the SL. On the other hand, interpreters share with their counterparts the same process, but via different means; spoken discourse which requires either consecutive or simultaneous oral production of the TL. They have no time to consult other sources or to think judiciously of different equivalences. This entails that competence must be submerged with communication skills.

Since the mid 1990s, research into interpretation has flourished creatively addressing novel areas in the nature of interpretation and the interpreters’ required skills and competences. Some scholars (e.g. Kalina and Köln, 2000) focused on the interpreters’ goal-oriented approach to determine what are the competences required for interpreters therefore they believed that the concept of interpreters’ competence is comprised from text production and text processing skills. This distinction was depicted from interpreters teaching and training prospective. Though this distinction of competence seems creative, it lacks elaboration on the nature and integration of these skills especially in the problem solving mechanism.

The interpretation scholars Rajai Al Khanji and Salih Al Salman (2002, p. 608) classify the following linguistic and non-linguistic skills and competences as crucial for interpreters:

1)      Mastery of the active language,

2)      Solid background of general knowledge,

3)      Some personal qualities like the faculty of analysis and synthesis, the ability to intuit meaning, the capacity to adapt immediately to change in subject matter and different speakers and situations. 

4)      Good short and long term memory,

5)      The ability to concentrate, a gift for public speaking, and physical endurance and good nerves.

Deborah and Carol (2003), correspondingly, assert on the integration between interpreters skills on the one hand, and interactional interpretive setting within the training context on the other hand. They emphasize on the pathology of interpreters’ speech problems. Finally and based on the interpretation task type, they formulated the competences and skills required for interpreters. Meaning that, each interpretative type calls for a certificate of special competences. For instance, Medical interpretation calls for the following competences:

1)      Basic linguistic proficiency

2)      Recognition of ethical issues

3)      Standards

4)      Decision-making

5)      Cultural competence in both cultures

6)      Health care terminology

7)      Integrated interpretation skills

8)      Ability to interpret both oral and written directions

While this is not the case for educational specialized interpreters which calls for other competences.

1)      Knowledge of the purposes, procedures, and goals of the meeting, tests, and treatment.

2)      An understanding of the need for confidentiality

3)      Comprehension of school policies and procedures

4)      Appropriate dress

5)      Sensitivity to the issues and needs of the participants (Cheng, 1991) (as cited in Deborah and Carol 2003, p. 79).

So, they classified competences based on the SL nature and specialty. They further add that these competences must be attested by certificates from specialized agencies before interpreters embark on their profession (Deborah & Carol, p. 78-80).

Consecutive interpreters, Gile (2005) states, work respectively in two main phases: (1) the ’listening phase’ in which they listen carefully to the speaker and take notes, (2) the ’reformulation phase’ in which they produce a TL rendition of the speech as the speaker is waiting for them to end before resuming his/her statement. According to Gile (2005) processing capacity (PC) requirements in the first phase ’ listening phase’ are almost shared as in simultaneous, between the Listening and analysis, Memory, and production efforts. Thus, the difference is only in note taking and time lag caused by it, where as in simultaneous interpretation PC along with cognitive efforts work instantly. In the second phase ’reformulation phase’, Gile adds, the consecutive interpreter reads his/her notes, reconstructs the speech through long term memory with the help of the notes, and produces the TL rendition. Therefore, we can infer that long term memory is an essential demand for consecutive interpreters along pacing note taking, listening, and message production.

Interpreters must grasp two basic competences for fulfilling their communicative goals in the TL. These two basic competences are procedural knowledge which entails that knowledge of how to perform perfect production which depends heavily on the mastery of connections between stimuli, responses and cognitive skills; the second basic knowledge is the declarative knowledge which is descriptive and entails basic information for particular tasks and situations (Riccardi, 2005). Riccardi (2005, p. 757) also elaborated on the nature of integration between these two basic competences by providing an example which clarifies that whereas knowledge about grammatical rules is declarative, the natural application of these grammatical rules is procedural. This accentuates the importance of procedural knowledge over declarative knowledge, since it is the means of reflecting declarative knowledge which, in turn, underpins the importance of strategies in interpretation as a procedural competence in the interpretation process. 

Other interpretation scholars started to broaden their research into interpreters competence by looking at the role of non-verbal communication cues in interpretation situation (Cecot, 2005; Zhe, 2007). Non-verbal communication, or paralinguistic features as referred by other scholars, may take several forms (e.g. body postures, gestures, intonation, noises, etc.) each of which clarifies or replaces a specific part of the verbal communication; it involves many more elements than one may depict at first. Therefore, Zhe (2007) asserts on the importance of non-verbal communication for professional interpreters. When interpreters are in a working situation where the audience will not see them, non-verbal communication can represent a problem, since the audience might even be declined to think that the interpreters have not done a satisfactory job. Therefore, interpreters need to make sense of non-verbal communication cues in interpretation (Zhe, 2007). He further elaborates that intelligence and emotional intelligence are essential for interpreting non-verbal elements. Many emotional expressions appear to be displayed universally. However, non-verbal behaviour varies from culture to culture. In the realm of non verbal communication, predictability is exceedingly significant for interpreters. Thus, predictability of meaning in the field of interpretation is the sum of interpreter’s general culture and their ability to interpret non-verbal communication (Zhe, 2007).

4. Neuroscientists and Neurolinguists’ Viewpoint of Competence

Investigating the issue of competence, so as to have a holistic view of competence, leads us, in my viewpoint, to address the nature of humans, since it is a matter of personal cognitive differences between individuals; memory strength span, comprehension, concentration domain, and response/reaction skills which often relies on all other previous factors or on oral, aural, and writing skills. In the past decades neuroscientists and neurolinguists have dictated their research to investigate humans’ brain and how language/communication competence is set, interrelated, developed, retained, activated, deactivated and so forth. These questions baffle them and made them strive to detect these areas.

Based on their empirical tests, neuroscientists and neurolinguists suggest that the left hemisphere is in charge of language functions and logical thought i.e., speech, song, and writing. That means that there are cerebral areas in the left hemisphere that control speech. The right hemisphere is controlled by the left hemisphere, and the right is responsible for such things as the perception of rhythm, spatial-relation skills, and abstract or intuitive thought. They also declared that a special part of the brain can be seen as a hint for higher intelligence because it has developed later in evolution than other parts; it is the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is concerned with higher intellectual functions as well as language functions (Steinberg, Nagata, and Aline. 2001).

Finally and based on their special scientific experiments, they came up with the following classification that almost illustrates areas responsible for competence along with their functions:

1)      Frontal Lobe - Plays an important role in reasoning, planning, parts of speech and movement (motor cortex), emotions, and problem-solving.

2)      Parietal Lobe – Responsible for the perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.

3)      Temporal Lobe – Involved in the perception and recognition of auditory stimuli (hearing) and memory.

4)      Occipital Lobe - Concerned with many aspects of vision.

5)      Brainstem – Part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls functions such as heart rate, breathing, digestive processes, and sleeping.

6)      Cerebellum – Coordinates the brain’s instructions for skilled, repetitive movements, and helps maintain balance and posture.

7)      Wernicke’s area – The part of the brain that is important in language development.

8)      Broca’s area – The part of the brain important for speech. (Virtual Labs Interactive Media (2007) Stanford University)

Language competence spots and functions in mind

Figure 2. Language competence spots and functions in mind Adapted from Virtual Labs Interactive Media (2007) Stanford University.

Empirical studies recently argued that the massive and synchronized activation of both cerebral hemispheres is required when interpreters are engaged in the process of simultaneous interpretation (Tommola, 2000, 2001) (cited in Kapranov, 2008). Neurolinguists played a vital role in the development of conference interpreting in the early 1990s through the partnership established in Trieste between interpreter trainers and neurolinguist Franco Fabbro. A great deal of partnership focused on investigating lateralization patterns in interpreters, but primary findings suggested more balanced involvement in both hemispheres in interpreters which were contradicted by ulterior results, therefore, the evidence is inconclusive (Gile, 2006).

Others neourolinguists investigated the link between language competence, language production, and language directionality, for instance, Ullman (2001) concludes that L2 grammatical competence is acquired overtly and is represented in a left temporal area together with L1 and L2 vocabulary. On the contrary, grammatical competence for L1 is acquired completely and is centred along the frontal-basal ganglia circuit. As a result, L2 Production compared to L1 will be managed and mediated by explicit, metalinguistic competence rather than by implicit grammatical competence that is procedurally represented (Ullman, 2001; Abutalebi and Green, 2006).

I would like here to assert that research into the relationship between language competence and brain is still lacking, since the brain structure is very complex and there may be other undetected areas and functions in the human brain. However, what matters for translation and interpretation researchers, based on the detected models of competence, is how to better develop this competence to attain their communicative goals. In the following discussion, and in the light of the above reviewed about the concept of competence in translation and interpretation, a new brief comparison which moulds translators and interpreters’ requisite competence will be put forward in an attempt to have a clear image of this problematic field.

5. Translators vs. Interpreters’ Competence Compared and Moulded

In 2008, Kermis concludes that:

Translator training deals with several issues which are addressed in interpreter training as well, such as cultural competence and subject area competence, but it also includes courses on topics which are of less importance to professional interpreters, such as writing skills and the use of translation tools during translation. Moreover, translator training does not deal with several issues which should be addressed in interpreter training. For instance, interpreters need to be able to interpret a client’s intonation, body language and facial expressions, whereas translators are concerned with the source author’s writing style and the target culture’s writing conventions. (p. 1)

According to Kermis, translators’ competence training may contribute to interpreters’ competence; therefore, Kermis concluded that they can be investigated with each other, since both of them experience the same field (interlingual communication). As a result, they share some commonalities and distinct skills to accomplish their tasks. Kermis seems consistent with Gile’s theory (2004) of interpretation sub-disciplinary which concludes that interpretation is a sub-discipline of translation or in other words the oral version of translation, therefore, any investigation of interpreters’ competence must bypass translation. Therefore, Kermis proposes the following model of competences required for professional translators and interpreters as an attempt to clarify how translators and interpreters’ competences are derived from the same root and share some unity ’interlangual communication’: Professional Translators’ Competences:


1)      Linguistic Competence

2)      Comprehension Competence

3)      Production Competence

4)      Subject Area Competence

5)      Cultural Competence


1)      Translational Competence

2)      Instrumental Competence

3)      Attitudinal Competence

4)      Communicative Competence

5)      Assessment Competence

Professional Interpreters’ Competence


1)      Linguistic Competence

2)      Comprehension Competence

3)      Production Competence

4)      Subject Area Competence

5)      Cultural Competence


1)      General Knowledge

2)       Memory Skills

3)       Public Speaking

4)       Moral Competence

5)       Stress Tolerance

(Kermis, 2008: 46)

This has been an undeniable ingenious attempt. However, Kermis mingled skills and competences together. For instance, memory skills and stress tolerance have been subsumed as competences though they are skills as stated by Kermis herself. They can be technically grouped into cognitive and physical skills respectively. Even if other scholars will consider them as competences rather than skills, they can be subsumed under the cognitive competence and physical competence respectively. In addition, Kermis common competences between professional translators and interpreters lack key competences required for both translators and interpreters; for instance, strategic competence is iconic and fundamental common competence between translators and interpreters (e.g. PACTE, 2005, 2011; Celce-Murcia et al. 2007; Al-Khanji et al. 2000; Al-Salman & Al-Khanji, 2002; and others). Another common competence missed by the Kermis’ model is the ethical viability (neutrality), as this issue is crucial in translation and interpretation profession (National Standard Guide for Community Interpreting Services, 2007; Baker and Maier, 2011).

Based on the previously discussed and analyzed models and approaches of competence, we can infer that it is not easy to have a clear cut definition or model for competence, since it integrates many factors and perspectives. Interpreters’ competence can not be discussed or examined apart from translators’ competence, and translators and interpreters’ competence, on the other hand, cannot be analyzed apart from language competence, since they all share the same interlingual communication realm. The following brief developed comparison will almost mould and illustrate this debatable issue.

A brief inclusive mould of professional translators

Figure 3. A brief inclusive mould of professional translators and interpreters’ requisite competences.

6. Conclusion

Competence is a broad concept which denotes certain sorts of expertise and aptitude that translators and interpreters need to master and control. Translators and interpreters work within the realm of interlingual communication. Therefore, they share basic required competences. Translation is the written version of interlingual communicative realm which calls for grasping the mutual competences along with certain specialized skills for the profession of translation, interpreting, on the other hand, is the oral version of translation which requires the mutual competences with translators along with certain specialized skills for the challenging profession of interpreting. In the current studies, the researchers attempted to develop a new mould of translators and interpreters’ requisite competences based on the aforementioned and compared views in an attempt to unify the previous research into an inclusive stand of translators and interpreters’ required competences. Besides, differentiating briefly between competences and skills.

If we scrutinize the previous mould, we will realize how challenging it is to be in the realm of translation and interpretation professions. Professional translators and interpreters’ requisite competences and skills can best be compared to anode and cathode currents interaction for the current to follow. Meaning that, competences can only be activated and presented through certain skills. As the previous brief mould necessitates, translators and interpreters’ requisite competences are almost the same irrespective of dissimilar terminologies used by some scholars. However, what distinguishes translators and interpreters are the skills required to fulfil their communicative goals in the TL; translators profession calls for certain skills along with the mutual competences, interpreters’ competence, on the other hand, requires different set of certain skills along with mutual competences as illustrated previously. In other words, the mutual competences can be activtivated only through distinctive skills of both professions. Moreover, we may infer that many words or expressions may be coined and listed in dictionaries as a result of political, economic, educational or societal phenomena or advancing technologies; consequently, translation and interpretation requisite competence might be of a diachronic nature which, in turn, calls translators and interpreters for following these new terminologies along with their contextual features. Studies differentiating between competences and skills in the realm of translation and interpretation are suggested for future research.


1. Chomsky’s well known distinction between competence and performance is inspired by structural theorists, namely, de Saussurean distinction (1959) between sign systems and convention which embrace langue (language) and parole (speakers’ speech acts).

2. Šeböková (2010) argues that most of the typos and grammatical mistakes group into the category of binary errors. Therefore, binary errors have been counted for every student and for the group as a whole and were compared to the number of binary errors made by the psychology trainee (PT). This kind of error often consisted of typos (e.g. missing/ redundant punctuation, misspellings of proper names etc). This runs contrary to Pym’s view of non-binarism which considers them as inherently non-translational.

3. The new mould of translation and interpretation requisite competences was identified and developed according to the description and comparison of various models in the literature proposed, among others, (Schäffner and Beverly (2000), Nubert (1994, 2000), Olivia (2000), Celce-Murcia et al. (1995), Gile (2004, 2009), Kermis (2008), Šeböková (2010), and others).



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Published - November 2011

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