Give a Man a Fish and Teach Him How to Fish --- Spanish Department’s Cultivation of Oral Interpreters

Publisher:夏琪Delivery time:2015-04-10Views:75

Dejing Kong, College of Foreign Languages


 “The greatest impression is learning Spanish presented to me another beautiful world.  I will continue to learn Spanish and constantly make progress,” said Kuan Chen after finishing his interpretation work in the Tsinghua visit of the MBA students from Adolfo Ibanez University of Chile.

      “The four weeks of foreign trade classes really benefited me. Mr. Zha told me a lot of his and his customers’ experiences, making me realize that doing foreign trade is not easy.  I learnt a lot from him from outside of textbooks.  In particular he invited his foreign friends to give us talks, provided opportunities for us to simulate business negotiations, which are really precious and interesting,” said Leqi Zhang.

       “The instructors’ teaching was really vivid and interesting.  My biggest harvest was the happiness in learning this language,” recalled Yun Li who’s now a consul assistant in the General Consulate of the Republic of Cuba in Shanghai.

“Beautiful, fun and happy” are the key words for the students and graduates when talking about learning Spanish.  Sanda’s Spanish Department is the third of its kind in universities in Shanghai.  Making learning a pleasure, and turning students into applied talents of high quality is the goal of the department in its efforts to bring up oral interpretation talents.  After 4 years of studies, its first class of graduates of 2014 is 100% employed, all receiving good work evaluations from employers.  What are the keys to the success of the department?  Accurate positioning, clear directions, flexible teaching methods and rich opportunities for practice.



First A Big Chorus, Then Individual Corrections
        Among the 58 universities and colleges offering majors in Spanish, what are the strengths of our Spanish Department?  Department Chair Prof. Quan Chen who witnessed the gestation, birth and development of the department said:”Our innovation is we start our oral interpretation classes in the second half of the sophomore year.  88% of the Spanish departments in China offer 1 or 2 semesters of oral interpretation while ours is 4.  Most offer interpretation in the 6th or 7th semester for 36 or 72 credits.  We have advanced and extended it in time so that our interpretation courses start in the latter part of the 2nd year and continues into the first half of the 4th year.”

        The reason for this reform is that oral interpretation can greatly improve students’ spoken Spanish, accent, grammar and cross-cultural communication abilities.



Professor Quan Chen in an Interpretation Class

       The department’s teaching method and content also center on practice and application.  A characteristic of Prof. Chen’s classes is “first a big chorus, then individual corrections”.  He first plays a Chinese or Spanish audio piece, asking everybody to interpret together in a chorus, then ask individual students to give interpretations.  The big chorus, according to Prof. Chen, is a highly effective exercise.  The instructor can tell from it how much the students have previewed the lessons without interrupting their work, at the same time identify all kinds of problems and enable students to develop the habit of speaking.

       After the big chorus comes the time for individual interpretation and correction.  Prof. Chen would give suggestions regarding grammar, wording, even accents and tones.  The entire class would be interpreting for real.  It’s very common to have to interpret after listening only once in class.  After the big chorus, Prof. Chen would ask students to interpret one by one, which is a time for individual performances that everybody feels nervous about but also looks forward to.  The audio can be played again, or it could be sight interpretation of video captions.

       The interpretation could fall on anyone in class so one has to be highly focused.  Many students perform well because of prior-preparation.  There will be discussions about how to render a sentence or a phrase, which means everyone can contribute, which is really helpful as well.

       Besides, the materials used are all very practical so they can be directly used later in formal occasions.  In class, Prof. Chen always encourages students to be flexible, “to use our insufficient knowledge to solve realistic problems seemingly beyond our capabilities”. Timely suggestions and evaluations from the instructors will leave a deep impression to the students, tremendously enhancing the teaching effect. 

       Prof. Chen has outlined four rules everyone needs to carry out.  First, oral interpretation classes are for practice.  Before each class, one must independently or with the help of his/her classmates complete homework and preview. Second, preview includes looking up expressions in the dictionary, studying, understanding and reading interpretations, trying (sight) interpretation on one’s own, trying to resolve all problems one meets with, and recording questions unresolved. Third, develop the habit of interpreting everything in class and after class. And fourth, all homework assignments need to be completed and will be scored.

       In the National Spanish Translation and Interpretation Forum held in Dalian in October, 2014, Prof. Chen introduced the teaching design, curriculum arrangements and evaluation criteria of our Spanish interpretation classes, and received much feedback.  On December 1st, two Spanish instructors from Capital Normal University came particularly to listen in Prof. Chen’s classes.

       They were deeply impressed by “big chorus first and individual corrections next”。 They thought the students abided by the rules very well and actively participated in class.  The teacher materials were close to student life, and the two-way (Chinese-Spanish and Spanish-Chinese) interpretation was continuous and very realistic.  Prof. Chen’s explanations were really detailed and the exercises were repeated many times and very suitable for the students.  Some experts even suggest the department add more interpretation courses.



Taking Advantages of All Opportunities to Interpret

      Besides On-Site Interpretation Simulation classes, another characteristic of our Spanish Department is that it seeks to provide all opportunities possible for the students to practice interpretation, combined with moral and professional education, which is widely accepted and welcomed by the students.

      The Cervantes Festival has become a logo of the department’s cultural activities.  The entire festival is directed and performed by the students.  The department also actively seeks help from Spanish expats in Shanghai.  They’ve invited experts from Spanish-speaking countries in Shanghai to give lectures, interpreted by our own students.



In the beginning of the 4th Cervantes Festival held on May 7th, 2014, Ricardo Blázquez, top representative of IVEX (Foreign Trade Department of Valencia District, Spain) came to give a lecture on what Spanish-speaking talents Spanish businesses need. 

        The speaker was asked to randomly select an interpreter from among the students in the audience.  All students were nervous and excited, completely focused on the report and interpreting in mind.  When seeing all interpreters (sophomores and juniors) randomly chosen were basically able to successfully complete his/her task, Mr. Blázquez was really happy and commended the students, who not only exercised listening and interpreting through the practice, but also learnt about what goals to set for the future and how to achieve them.



On Dec. 17th, 2014, the wife of Consul General of Columbia in Shanghai gave a report to our students.  8 juniors and seniors worked as interpreters.  In 2012, when consul-generals from five countries (Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Cuba and Spain) visited, they were also asked to randomly select student interpreters.  Prof. Chen said:”Whenever we have Spanish-speaking visitors, we will seize the opportunities as exercises so that everyone can show and prove himself.”

       The department tries to create all possible opportunities for the students including exhibitions, visits and contests. In late December of 2014, four students, Jinjing Liu, Qiuqing Yang, Xueying Liu and Xiaoyan Luo, were sent to help on a visit by 50 members of the Socialist Unity Party of Venezuela at the China Executive Leadership Academy of Pudong.  The students tried all they could to help the visitors during their entire stay in Shanghai and received unanimous praises from the guests.



The Spanish department would even turn a serious meeting into an interpretation class.  For example, in 2013, the department turned a teaching evaluation mobilization meeting into a large interpretation class attended by students of three grades with two students acting as interpreters on-site, leaving a deep impression to everyone.

      The practice of “interpreting everything” has made the students really diligent, their confidence greatly enhanced when at the same time finding much fun in learning Spanish.  One student said:”I’m more and more interested in oral interpretation classes now.  I’m no longer afraid of speaking with foreigners and I’m very happy about it!”

      Practical Courses Paving the Way for Employment
      To bring up applied talents, the Spanish Department attaches great importance to the cultivation of students’ spoken and interpretation abilities, also students’ mastery of knowledge of business and trade.  According to Chair Chen, 90% of the graduates have been employed by small and medium-sized trading companies.

      In terms of course setup, besides basic language courses, expat instructors teach marketing and business management.  Prof. Chen teaches secretarial skills courses, which is pretty unique among Shanghai universities.  The Department has also hired through university-enterprise cooperation programs Spanish speaking senior executives of foreign trade companies to teach foreign trade operations.

      Foreign Trade operations are taught in both Chinese and Spanish by Board Chairman Zha Dong (transliteration of “查东”) of Anhui Huangshan Yahe Import and Export Trading Corporation Limited. The course is taught with the instructor giving questions and students finding answers through group discussions.  Also , students directly negotiate trade prices with foreign businessmen in the Spanish World of the International Cultural Experience Center, more actively learning Spanish and cultural differences.



   This course is particularly popular among students. Through the course, many have ascertained their future career plans.

          Besides, the cooperating companies also provide intern and employment opportunities.  6 of our students have interned at Huangshan Yahe, one of whom worked in the company after completing practical training.  On the 29th of this past January, the department had added another partner to its cooperation programs: Hong Kong Yatai Trade Group Corporation Limited.

          Prof. Zhou of Capital Normal University commended the department on its curriculum design that it’s very comprehensive in its practical planning.  Our graduates’ Spanish have received recognition from employers.  China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) learnt from online about the department and contacted it for recruitment affairs.  Their HR director flew over from Beijing particularly to interview our students.

          Proficiency in oral expression, relatively strong interpretation ability, a rich store of practical business and trade knowledge, and comparatively high Test for Spanish Majors-Band 4 (TSM4) passing rate have together given rise to the department’s high employment rate.  TSM4 passing rates have been increasing: 60.57% followed by 86.7%.

          According to Prof. Chen’s analysis, in 2014’s TSM4, Sanda students did better than the national average in items closely related to oral interpretation abilities: 5.81 versus 5.54 in Spanish-Chinese translation, and 12.36 versus 12.09 in oral composition.  There are 12 universities in China whose students’ average score on oral composition did not reach the passing score of 12.
Prof. Chen said the employers normally take TSM4 pretty seriously for it’s rather comprehensive in testing the students language abilities with a written test of 150 minutes and a recorded oral test of 60 minutes.

          According to research, 90% of the Spanish departments in China think oral interpretation courses are very helpful for nurturing applied language talents.  78% think these courses promote student learning in other courses.  Prof. Chen thinks with strong interpretation ability, a student will be good at adapting to work as well.  The department will continue to take advantage of and give full play to the role of interpretation in its course system.

          The department will further optimize its teaching plan, hire good faculty members and set up more enterprise cooperation programs to bring up more students highly qualified for the rapidly-changing job market.

          (My deep appreciation goes to Prof. Quan Chen, Ms. Qiyun He and Lecturer Chao Pan for their tremendous help in writing this news-report.)


Translated By Qi Xia


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