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Working memory and expertise in simultaneous interpreting

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This study describes an experiment that aimed to determine if performance differences exist in simultaneous interpreting by individuals with similar general cognitive abilities, but different skills specific to the task of simultaneous interpreting. Professional interpreters’ performance in simultaneous interpreting from English into Mandarin was compared to that of two groups of student interpreters, beginners and advanced. The results showed that the professional interpreters who were not different from students in their general working memory capacity outperformed student interpreters. This difference was attributed, at least in part, to the development of specific skills in managing competing demands on limited cognitive resources. One important domain-specific skill observed in this study is the ability to select more important ideas from the speech input under conditions where stringent task demands jeopardize completeness and accuracy of the output. Professional interpreters’ generally superior performance is discussed within the descriptive framework of working memory theory.
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Keywords: domain-specific skills; expertise; resource allocation; simultaneous interpreting; working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Texas at Austin

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting
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