I just finished as stint as a visiting scholar at the Universidad de La Laguna, an arrangement made possible in large part by fellow interpreting blogger Michelle Hof. I was very warmly welcomed by my interpreting colleagues and full-time faculty members Carmen Toledano Buendía, Marlene Fernández, and Julia Sorgel Müller. If you have not heard of the interpreting program at La Laguna, it has been around since 1988, and it enjoys a very strong reputation in our field.
For that reason, I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the program first hand. Indeed, my colleagues there were very generous with their time and their know-how, and I walked away from the experience greatly enriched.
Here are a few of the take-aways that will stay with me, and I hope they might be of interest to you.
1. Contact with great colleagues
In addition to the full-time faculty I mentioned above, La Laguna has a number of talented part-time instructors. One of these is Lourdes de Rioja, herself a La Laguna graduate.
If Lourdes is not a familiar name to you already, then you have to check out her well known video blog, A Word in Your Ear. There you will find a veritable who’s who of the interpreting world sharing their advice and insight with you. It’s a tremendous resource for student interpreters.
Also vitally important is the work that Lourdes has been doing for the European Commission. She is the designer and producer of SCICtrain, which is an excellent place for student interpreters to find material to supplement their classroom learning. For example, there is a helpful series of videos that introduces you to the basics of note-taking for consecutive interpreting. It also contains a number of demonstrations, so that you can see consec is handled by the pros.
While at La Laguna, I had the chance to sit alongside Lourdes in the classroom. It was a real treat, and I learned a great deal from the experience.
2. A program that runs like clockwork
There is more to the La Laguna program than just great teachers. In its 38-year history, it has had the time to figure out how to really make things work. Let me give you a for instance.
In any interpreting classroom, it can take a while for students to come in and settle. Then you have to figure out who is giving which speech, and who will be interpreting it. When it comes time to give feedback, it’s easy to get long-winded and take time away from precious interpreting practice. Of course, if you have more than a few students, you then have to find a way to keep everyone busy. For the teacher leading the charge, it can be quite a challenge.
But the folks at La Laguna have things sorted. In every class, there is both a teacher who is a working interpreter, and a speech giver who is a native speaker of the source language. Students walk into the room and get right to work. This is because everyone is committed to getting through three speech cycles in a 90-minute class.
In other words, everyone knows that they have 30 minutes to
- Listen to a source-language speech and take notes
- Divide the students so that some remain in the room with the interpreter teacher, and some go to another space with the speech giver
- In both locations, have a first interpreter give the interpretation while the second interpreter leaves the room
- In both locations, have the second interpreter re-enter the room and interpret
- In both locations, listen to feedback either from the interpreter teacher or from the speech giver
This cycle is then repeated two more times before the end of the class. In this way, no fewer than 12 students get to interpret and receive feedback in each class. It’s just one example of how La Laguna runs like a well oiled machine.
In sum, observing an established interpreting program and its instructors from a ring-side seat was extremely beneficial. It helped me to quickly see what we are already doing right at Glendon. It also set the wheels in my head in motion, thinking about how to improve things at home. There is nothing like a trip away to put things into perspective for you.
That said, the memories that will stand out the most for me are of people — the full-time faculty who welcomed me with open arms, the part-time instructors who treated me like a colleague, and the students who helped me reach new insights about teaching and learning. You made me feel at home. So to all of you, I say ¡muchísimas gracias!