How to fix the faux pas

Interpreting French
November 30, 2001

To produce a structured introduction to an activity as fluid as liaison interpreting is a challenging venture, which no doubt explains the dearth of appropriate material on the market. But Interpreting French - published simultaneously with German and Spanish companions in a new series - is a creditable attempt to fill the gap. Its three component levels (each divided into seven units) correspond to the three years of an undergraduate French course, though the speed of progression can obviously be varied to suit particular circumstances.

The authors suggest that their material could rectify many of the inadequacies of the typical "conversation class" - eloquently evoked in their opening paragraph - even when interpreting is not a central course objective. For, as the subtitle Advanced Language Skills implies, interpreters are not the only language professionals who need to be able to sort out gist from waffle, take notes efficiently, learn to get out of tight corners, take part in role play, or research into cultural background - and all these transferable skills are catered for in levels one and/or two. Others more specific to liaison interpreting are also covered: tactfully correcting a speaker's factual errors (as well as the interpreter's own faux pas ), anticipating what is likely to come next, dealing with speakers who interrupt the translation.

Another element in level one is the phraseology for interactive functions such as expressing (dis)agreement, persuading and dissuading, introducing speakers and requesting repetitions. Attention is paid to relevant grammatical points (such as indirect statements and questions), and there is good training material on logical connectors. Level three draws together all these features, as well as various others, but the main focus is on the role of the interpreter in business negotiations (for instance, between Pernod Ricard and an Australian wine-grower), and there is extensive advanced practice in the analysis of background material.

Levels one and two offer a range of appropriate exercises, some intended for pair or group work, others recorded on the accompanying cassettes and usable for private study; plus a large number of dialogues (political discussion, medical consultation and so on) to be analysed and interpreted. Guidance for the student takes the form of photocopiable handouts; guidance for the tutor that of a booklet containing transcripts of all recordings and extensive suggestions on how the material might be organised, classes structured, and feedback provided.

Guidance is certainly needed as Interpreting French does make complex demands on the tutor's energy, agility and resourcefulness. No set dialogues are provided at level three, for example, only an outline in note form of the negotiations to be interpreted. At this stage, users are encouraged to write their own script. At levels one and two, with recordings, handouts, pair work and feedback all to be synchronised in class, even the experienced teacher might feel challenged, let alone the novice lecteur / lectrice . This reduces the potential usefulness of the course in oral classes.

The student handouts are nicely produced, but the same cannot be said of the spiral-bound tutor's booklet - some rather blurred print here, and even a proof-reading instruction carelessly left in. As for the recordings, the technical quality is good, despite some awkward transitions from one cassette side to the next, and the English voices cover quite a range of regional and social variants. But disappointingly, the French accents are all "standard educated Parisian" apart from a solitary - and pretty caricatural - Swiss speaker. And generally the francophones sound less spontaneous and more "scripted" than the anglophones. Given the high price of the total package, these material shortcomings, though minor, ought really to have been avoided.

Rodney Ball is senior lecturer in French, University of Southampton.

Interpreting French: Advanced Language Skills. First edition (includes 4 audio cassettes)

Author - Margaret Lang and Isabelle Perez
ISBN - 0 415 12560 X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £150.00
Pages - Tutor's book 136, student handouts 168

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