Day of Teaching 2008: Award for the Germersheim Friday Conference concept

Project of Faculty 06 receives the Excellence Award for Learning and Teaching of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate


One of the winner projects of the 2008 Excellence Award for Learning and Teaching of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate is the Friday Conference concept of Faculty 06: Translation Studies, Linguistics, and Cultural Studies at the Germersheim location of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The JGU Friday Conference is a 90-120 minute-long cross-linguistic and cross-institutional multilingual teaching event organized by the teachers of interpretation at Faculty 06 and open to all students of translation and interpretation.

Each interpreter language is the conference language at least once every semester. Lecturers for each language arrange for an appropriate speaker. At the conference, students act as interpreters in so-called "official" booths. There is an official booth for each language, where two exam candidates sit and alternate every half hour as stipulated in the regulations of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIP). Candidates work on a rotational basis so all have an equal opportunity to practice their skills.

The lecturers, who are present during this exercise, can at any time listen in and evaluate the output of the students in each official booth. Right after the conference, students and teachers have the chance to discuss the students' performance so as to identify their strengths and weaknesses in interpreting. Problems that appear to be particularly relevant are dealt with again in class the following week. The great advantage of the Friday Conference concept is that students are taken out of their usual artificial learning environment and are confronted with a realistic conference situation.

At least two days before each conference, the students who will be working as interpreters in the official booths are given preparatory materials and are instructed to supplement each topic by means of their own research. This helps them both learn research techniques and how to prepare for a conference. During the conference, they deal with up-to-the-minute socio-political, economic, technical, and literary topics. And it's a good exercise to interpret for a range of speakers with different accents and presentation styles, not to mention their PowerPoint presentations, films, and speeches read at a fast pace. The aim is to enable students to adjust to different speakers very quickly.

Another field of attention that the Friday Conference is to train is that of the technique of relay interpreting. If, for example, a Russian speaker gives a presentation in his mother tongue, the Russian booth translates into German, which is then translated by all the other booths into other foreign languages. Thus, following a language changeover, the students learn to quickly switch to another cabin when they themselves cannot cover the current speaker's language. The European Union is particularly interested in relay interpreting in face of the EU's great language diversity.

The variety of conference situations, the European language diversity, complex presentations, jokes or puns, and misunderstandings due to misinterpretation are excellent preparation for future professional practice.