(Déjean Le Féal, 1997, p. 618)
Then she draws an interesting analogy: using CI as a technique to learn SI is “as safe and reassuring as learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels” (Déjean Le Féal, 1997, p. 620), hence the title to her paper ‘Simultaneous Interpretation with Training Wheels’.
With regards to the importance of CI in SI training, Seleskovitch (1999, p. 64) strongly recommends it contending:
[…] starting students’ training with consecutive is a means of getting them accustomed to putting a stage of deverbalised sense between two languages. It not only shows students what interpretation is about, it also deflects them from considering only language meanings, and sets a pattern for work in simultaneous.
Split-attention, divided-attention, or attention-sharing exercises primarily depend on the individual’s ability to split their mental resources in order to undertake two or more tasks simultaneously. One could ask the trainees to listen to a text and at the same time count the numbers from zero onwards (both in L1). Then the trainees’ understanding of the text can be checked by asking them to summarize the main points of the text. The next step is to do one of these two activities in L1 and the other in L2. To further complicate the task, the trainee cold be asked to count backwards. There are numerous similar exercises with different variations for each. In what follows, we will look at some theoretical considerations relating to the concept of split attention.
Naturally enough, we first need to know what attention basically is. According to James (1890, as cited by Lambert et al., 1995, p. 39), attention is “the focalization and concentration of consciousness.” And similarly “focalized attention is thought to be the result of the concentration of one’s consciousness on a particular process” (Rund, 1986; Dennett, 1991, as cited in Lambert et al., 1995, p. 39). It is thought to be “the function by means of which a given task may be improved” (Lambert et al., 1995, p. 39).
Mizuno (2005, p. 742) states that “Divided attention or attention switching has been one of the contentious issues in cognitive science.” In the following words, Lambert (2004, p. 294) introduces this key question prevailing in cognitive psychology, that is the (im)possibility of dividing one’s cognitive resources between distinct tasks:
One of the most interesting questions in human information processing is whether a number of sensory inputs can be processed at the same time, or whether the only way to cope with more than one input is to switch rapidly from one input to the other (Broadbent, 1958).
Then she moves on to provide empirical evidence to prove that such a division is possible:
Several studies have required subjects to perform two simultaneous tasks (Allport, Antonis and Reynolds, 1972; Shaffer, 1975; and Welford, 1968). Allport et al. (1972) reported experiments in which subjects performed two tasks concurrently without any reduction in performance in either task. […] Shaffer (1975) found that a very skilled copy-typist could successfully type high speed from a visual text while doing another verbal task. […] Spelke, Hirst and Neisser (1976) had two subjects read short stories while writing lists of words in dictation. After several weeks of practice, they were able to write words, discover relations among dictated words, and categorize words for meaning while reading for comprehension at normal speed. (Lambert, 2004, p. 295)
The logical conclusion being it is possible for human beings to learn to perform multi-task operations. Simultaneous interpretation is in fact a typical case of divided attention for it involves several different mental tasks performed more or less concurrently. “Attention is divided when an interpreter monitors two or more tasks – listening to a verbal message in the source language, and translating it into a target language – while simultaneously monitoring one’s own output and on occasions reading portions of a written version of the original message for clues as to the best match of specific words in the working languages.” (Lambert et al., 1995, p. 39; Lambert, 2004, p. 297) Riccardi (2005, p. 762) also underscores the crucial importance of attention-dividing saying “ST processing and/or IT production require constant attention and the ability to divide cognitive resources among the processes as has been stressed by Gile (1995) in his effort models.”
However, it should also be remembered that the process of automatization plays a pivotal role in the simultaneity of speaking and listening. Lambert (2004) makes reference to this important issue in the following two paragraphs:
A general rule appears to be that once a skill is highly learned, it gradually requires less conscious attention or little allocation of mental effort. Furthermore, highly skilled tasks seem to become automated and thereby not susceptible to disruption because attention is withdrawn (Norman 1976). With sufficient practice, responses can become ‘pre-attentive’ or are referred to as ‘automatisms’ (Neisser 1967). (p. 296)
Studies in experimental psychology have indicated that after a minimum of six months of intensive training in tasks involving divided attention, some human beings can indeed acquire particular procedural skills enabling them to carry out several overlapping and/or concurrent, independent tasks (Spelke et al. 1976; Hirst et al. 1980). (p. 297)
Lambert’s emphasis on the necessity of automatizing the tasks through ample practice is in line with Kim’s (2006, p. 259) remark that “in order to become a talented interpreter one must disperse attention not deliberately but automatically and such cognitive ability must be increased through continued and repeated training.”
Lee (2011, pp. 154-155) makes similar remarks on this issue:
[…] many fundamental skills could be relevant, one of them is the control of attention. Speedy retrieval of equivalents will be one of the most important skills and, as mentioned earlier, failing to complete the current sentence as quickly as possible and move on to the next incoming sentence will lead to overloading of processing capacity. Therefore, successful interpreters are those who manage to maintain the delicate balance between their cognitive strengths and weaknesses and who have developed coping skills (Moser-Mercer 2000/2001). Interpreters also should be able to distribute their limited information processing capacity optimally to several modules of processing.
To explain the possibility of dividing one’s attentional resources among distinct synchronous tasks, three hypotheses have been proposed in the literature summarized by Lambert et al. (1995, pp. 39-40; Lambert, 2004, p. 298) as follows:
– the extra-effort hypothesis: the increased resources needed to carry out concurrent tasks require an increased effort on the part of the subject;
– the alternation-of-attention hypothesis: subjects do not carry out the different tasks in a rigorously concurrent way; instead, they learn how to rapidly shift back and forth from the processing of one task to the processing of another;
– the automatic-mental-activities hypothesis: after acquiring the ability to carry out a task involving divided attention, there is no longer the need to monitor every single mental activity through a central processing system, since some of these activities can be carried out automatically.
It should be noted that the three hypotheses mentioned above are not mutually exclusive. A logical explanation probably includes all the three. The first one can be claimed to be true for notwithstanding the possibility of simultaneous speaking and listening, it is not achieved without paying its price; concurrent comprehension of
ST and production of IT places a huge strain on human processing capacity, which is by nature limited (Klonowicz, 1994). That explains why even the most seasoned simultaneous interpreters do not work nonstop for more than 20 or 30 minutes (Lambert, 1992; Klonowicz, 1994; Chernov, 2004; Lambert, 2004). Conducting a pilot study on possible effects of prolonged turns in SI on the interpreter, Moser-Mercer et al. (1998, p. 62) found “evidence for the negative effect prolonged turns (those lasting longer than 30 minutes) have on the quality of an interpreter’s output and on his attitude towards the task.”
The second hypothesis is also true as some scholars have suggested taking advantage of the pauses in the source text. For instance, Lambert (2004, p. 296) suggests that, in order to alleviate the severe strain caused by continuous concurrent processing in this fashion, “simultaneous interpreters, even with years of experience, make good use of the brief silences in the source language’s input.”
The third hypothesis pertains to the concept of automatization which we already explained above. Lambert et al. (1995, p. 40), too, explain that all the three hypotheses may be at work together:
Following experimental investigation, these three hypotheses turned out to be equally useful in order to describe the different stages characterizing the process of acquisition of tasks implying divided attention. In the initial stages, subjects have to make an “extra effort” in order to carry out the required tasks and generally tend to alternate their attention on different aspects of the global task, whereas after having acquired the complex concurrent tasks, their effort decreases and some aspects of the tasks become automatized (Hirst, Spelke, Reaves, Caharack and Neisser 1980).
Along the same lines, Cowan (2000/01, as cited in Mizuno, 2005, p. 743) suggests that “interpreters are unlikely to share attention adequately between listening and speaking.” Instead, he argues, interpreters may succeed because (a) part of