译员大脑探索之旅(一)口译员经历了什么?


发表于2021年4月28日   
世界工作安全健康日

观察会议口译员的表现,我们或许会觉得同声传译很轻松,但有人认为这项工作是人类最耗费精力的活动之一:真是如此吗?本文是系列文章的第一篇,将介绍认知负荷的概念,为各位进入口译员思维世界的精彩旅程做好准备。

我第一次接触会议口译是25年前。时至今日,我还记得坐在一个挤满本科生的教室里,老师讲到,我们都热衷于学习的这项技能极其复杂、深不可测,类似于一种艺术形式,很少有人理解,掌握的人更少。

不久之后,我听说有一项研究关注世界上最耗费精力的职业。与同事的闲聊中,我总能听到这项研究的所谓结论:会议口译员的注意力和压力水平与空中交通管制员相当。不过我仍然无法证实这项研究是否存在,确切内容更是不得而知。


时间回到25年后的今天。几周前我前往某国际组织,在会议现场收集口译员的数据。一位口译员提到,他记得苏联开展过一项研究。该研究称,口译员的精神负担和压力水平与第一批宇航员的测量结果相似。

那位口译员告诉我,这项研究后来中止了,初步结果已被封存起来,因为担心口译员可能会要求获得与那些早期太空先驱一样的报酬。不过,我没能从任何文件中找到确凿证据,因此很难证实这个故事的真实性,也不知道这项研究是否真的存在。

astronaut

不过,将会议口译员与空中交通管制员或宇航员相比还是比较直观的:毕竟,会议口译员也是在非常狭小的空间内工作,不比苏联早期的“东方号”飞船大多少,鸟瞰会议室的视角与控制塔的视角大致类似。口译员也头戴耳机、对着麦克风讲话,也会按下控制面板或控制台上的按钮。但是,这种比较除了表面上的相似之外,是否还有更深层次的意义?同声传译员是在一个新的领域开疆拓土,无畏地行走在双语者未曾走过的地方,还是这一切都只是一派胡言?

这些观点或许有些离谱,但说明长期以来人们一直认为会议口译(尤其是同声传译)会给译员造成较大的精神压力。然而,现今多数商业、职业与医疗卫生行业的主流网站并没有将会议口译列为心理负担最高的职业,也没有列为压力最大的职业。

事实上,在这些排行榜中,急救人员、医疗工作者、军人、飞行员以及驾驶员排在前列。空中交通管制员也在列,不过在名单上的位置要靠后一些,而口译员的缺席却很显眼。当然,这种缺席可能是由于这个群体的规模相对较小:国际会议口译员协会(AIIC)在全球范围内只有3000多位活跃成员,而美国航空管理局(FAA)中就有大约14000名空中交通管制员。

然而,人们认为同声传译在认知上十分复杂,感觉同时处理多种语言很不可思议,这不仅仅是局外观察者的印象。其实,20世纪20年代中期,国际劳工组织开展了第一次同声传译实验,那次任务的观察者认为,这项任务对人的精神消耗很大,建议在不超过30分钟轮换一次(30分钟的轮换时间广为人知,其实就是这么来的,而这样的安排实际上并不科学)。



然而,正是从那时起,许多研究人员对具备多语言能力的特定人群(也就是会议口译员)的能力感到惊讶,因为他们能够毫不费力地在不同语言之间切换,几乎同时将语义内容从一种语言系统转换到另一种语言系统中。

专门研究双语、注意力与记忆的著名认知心理学家、心理语言学家和神经语言学家从不同角度研究过同声传译,基本达成了共识,认为同声传译的确是对人类认知了不起的突破,将人脑的运作推向了极限,有时甚至超越了极限。不过如果你听过顶级会议口译员的同传,会觉得这样的说法有些夸张,因为从他们的表现,我们很难感觉出他们完成任务需要耗费多大的精力。

然而,对于那些研究人类大脑内部运作的人来说,这样的任务需要在短短几分之一秒内完成十分复杂的操作,是非同寻常的,而且令人着迷;与此同时,完成这样的任务也是有代价的,会对资源有限的认知系统产生负荷。有些任务看似微不足道,比如记住一个新同事的电子邮件地址,或者不用手机计算器计算每位朋友需要分摊的就餐费用,都提醒我们注意到人类大脑的处理能力是有极限的。

现在我们知道,一项任务产生的认知负荷量会直接影响我们的表现。尽管我们能够在一定程度上增加脑力劳动以适应负荷的增加,但一旦脑力达到极限,我们的表现就会打折扣,会出现失误、产生压力、负面情绪等等。因此,从职业健康与安全的角度来看,认真研究、(最好是)测量不同专业人员(不论是宇航员、空中交通管制员还是会议口译员)所承受的认知负荷是非常有意义的;目前,远程口译的需求与日俱增,口译员传统的工作模式正在发生转变,开展这样的研究是是非有必要的。

我邀请您同我开启一段振奋人心的口译员大脑之旅,仔细看看出色的同声传译员是怎么工作的,他们听到内容的同时用另外一种语言说出来,这个过程中产生的负担如何应对。我们将一起寻找这种负荷的根源,试图找出导致、加重或减轻这种负担的原因,探索口译员是如何应对这种负荷的,也会看到他们无法应对时会发生什么。

后续内容,敬请期待!

Part 2 - 译员大脑探索之旅(二)了解认知负荷——为什么同声传译对认知能力要求很高?

作者简介

Kilian Seeber

Kilian G. Seeber 瑞士日内瓦大学高级翻译学院副教授、副院长,会议口译硕士 (MACI) 与口译培训硕士(MASIT)课程主任,口译认知研究实验室(LaborInt)和口译与技术实验室(InTTech)首席研究员。于奥地利维也纳大学获得口笔译专业学士学位,于瑞士日内瓦大学口译获得专业硕士与博士学位,曾在英国约克大学从事心理语言学博士后研究。研究兴趣为复杂语言处理任务中的认知负荷与多模态加工,发表大量学术著作。(联系方式: kilian.seeber@unige.ch)


翻译:潘东鹏

(Translated by: PAN Dongpeng, UniGe)






Watch AIIC member Santiago Parra's translation of this article into Colombian sign language below:




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All just a load of ...? A journey into the interpreter's mind


28 April 2021   
World Day for Safety & Health at Work

Although professional conference interpreters make it look so easy, simultaneous interpreting is sometimes said to be among the most mentally taxing activities humans are capable of – but is it? This first in a series of posts introduces the notion of cognitive load and sets the scene for an exciting journey into the interpreter’s mind.

My first contact with the field of conference interpreting goes back 25 years. To this day, I remember sitting in a lecture hall packed with other undergraduate students and being told about the almost unfathomable complexity of the activity we were all so keen to learn. An activity akin to a form of art, understood by few, and mastered by even fewer.

It would not be long before I too was told about a study looking at the world's most mentally taxing professions. The alleged conclusion of this study – which would keep popping up in casual conversation with colleagues, but the existence, let alone exact content of which I am still unable to confirm – was that the levels of concentration and stress experienced by conference interpreters were comparable to those of air traffic controllers.


Fast forward a quarter century: while collecting in-vivo data from conference interpreters at an international organization only a few weeks ago, an interpreter shared his recollection of a study carried out in the Soviet Union, allegedly suggesting that the mental strain and stress levels experienced by interpreters was similar to that measured in the first cosmonauts in space.

The study, so I am told, was aborted and the preliminary results ended up in a drawer for fear that interpreters might demand to be paid the same as those early space pioneers. Once more, I have not been able to dig up any documentary evidence corroborating the veracity of the story and the existence of such a study.

astronaut

And yet, the comparison of conference interpreters to air traffic controllers or cosmonauts makes intuitive sense: after all, conference interpreters also work in very confined spaces, not much larger than the early Soviet Vostok spacecraft, with a birds-eye view of the conference room not dissimilar to that from a control tower. They too, wear headphones, speak into microphones, and press buttons on some sort of control panel or console. But is there more to this comparison than an apparent superficial similarity? And do simultaneous conference interpreters genuinely flirt with the final frontier, to boldly go where no bilingual has gone before - or is it all just a load of malarky?

Apocryphal as these stories might be, they illustrate that (especially simultaneous) conference interpreting has long been perceived as a mentally taxing activity. And yet today, most popular business, career and healthcare websites do not list conference interpreting among the most mentally-demanding occupations – nor the most stressful.

In fact, first responders, healthcare professionals, military personnel, pilots, and drivers populate the top spots in these rankings. While air traffic controllers make the ranking, albeit considerably farther down the list, interpreters are conspicuous only by their absence. This absence might, of course, be due to the relatively small size of the population in question: while AIIC has just over 3,000 active members worldwide, the American Aviation Administration (FAA) alone boasts some 14,000 air traffic controllers among its members.

The idea that simultaneous interpreting is cognitively complex however, is not merely the impression of uninitiated observers, who generally find it mind-boggling how anyone could juggle more than one language at a time. Granted, it was the observers of the first simultaneous interpreting experiments at the ILO in the mid 1920s who concluded that the task was mentally exhausting and suggested turns to be taken after no more than thirty minutes (suggesting a rather unscientific origin of the well-known 30-minute turn).



Since then, however, many researchers have expressed their fascination with the ability of certain multilinguals (aka, conference interpreters) to effortlessly switch between languages and map semantic content from one language system to another to a high degree of accuracy and completeness in almost no time.

After studying the task from different vantage points, renowned experts in cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics specializing in the study of bilingualism, attention, and memory all seem to converge on the idea that simultaneous conference interpreting is indeed a major cognitive feat pushing the human brain to its limits - and sometimes beyond. This might sound like hyperbole when listening to top-flight conference interpreters, as there might be little or nothing in their performance revealing the amount of processing power required to perform the task.

To those studying the inner workings of the human mind however, the complex operations taking place in mere fractions of seconds thus enabling such performances, are extraordinary and fascinating; among other things, because they come at a cost and generate load on a system whose resources are inherently finite. Seemingly trivial tasks like memorizing a new colleague’s email address or splitting the restaurant bill among friends without the calculator app on our phones serve as good reminders of the human mind’s processing limits.

Today we know that the amount of cognitive load generated by a particular task has direct consequences on our task performance. Although we are able to increase mental effort to match an increase in demand to a certain extent, once we reach the limits of our mental capacity, our performance declines. This decline manifests itself as performance errors, as well as stress and negative emotions. From an occupational health and safety perspective, therefore, it makes a lot of sense to carefully study and (ideally) measure the cognitive load experienced by different professionals, be it astronauts, air traffic controllers or conference interpreters, especially at times when accepted paradigms are shifting, as is currently the case with the exponential growth of remote interpreting.

I invite you to join me on an exciting journey into the interpreter’s mind to take a closer look at how high-performing multilingual brains deal with the load generated by listening to one thing while saying another. Together, we will look for the origins of this load, try to identify what causes, aggravates or alleviates it, discover how interpreters cope with it and perhaps even see what might happen when they don't.

Watch this space.

Part 2 - Get a load of this: What makes simultaneous interpreting cognitively demanding?

About the Author

Kilian Seeber

Kilian G. Seeber is associate professor and Vice Dean of the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Translation and Interpreting (FTI). He is the program director of the MA in Conference Interpreting (MACI) and the MAS in Interpreter Training (MASIT) as well as PI in the Laboratory for Cognitive Research in Interpreting (LaborInt) and in the Laboratory on Interpreting and Technology (InTTech). Kilian earned a graduate degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Vienna (Austria), as well as a postgraduate degree and a PhD in Interpreting from the University of Geneva (Switzerland) before completing his postdoctoral work in psycholinguistics at the University of York (United Kingdom). Kilian’s research interests include cognitive load and multimodal processing during complex language processing tasks, topics on which he has published widely. ( kilian.seeber@unige.ch)







Watch AIIC member Santiago Parra's translation of this article into Colombian sign language below:




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