A little while ago I was discussing training with my Interpretation Australia colleagues. Unlike some professions, there are no real rules regarding who can call themselves an interpreter, and what specific skills and qualifications these people can have.
While there are tertiary-level courses in interpretation, and some organisations offer accreditation programs, these are not ‘gatekeeper’ qualifications and pretty much anyone can say they do interpretation, regardless of how much knowledge and experience they actually have.
This can make it difficult for experienced interpreters to have their skills recognised and valued in the way that (say) architects and designers can. While the lack of rigid qualifications is not necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to interpretation being relegated behind other (more clearly defined) specialisms, particularly on large capital projects where the people in charge of the purse strings may not really appreciate what interpretation is.
Unlike some professions (neurosurgery springs to mind), interpretation comprises skills that are not necessarily unique to interpreters. I’ve been working in interpretation-related positions for over a decade, but I don’t have any formal qualifications (although I’d argue that my Grad Dip in Science Communication covered many of the skills that interpreters need). And not all interpretation jobs are the same: if we were to create a one-size-fits-all training and accreditation model for interpreters, how big would it have to be?
Number three of Freeman Tilden’s six principles of interpretation states:
“Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.”
My response to Tilden would be that art (like interpretation) can be hard to define. What is art? One person’s masterpiece can be another’s monstrosity! And that’s before you get to the “my four year old could do better” school of art criticism. Thus I would extend Tilden’s definition to incorporate science and craft as well as art:
- Science: the theories of interpretation (what we know through research and applying theories from education, psychology and the social sciences to the interpretation context);
- Craft: the skills of interpretation (for instance practical performance or public speaking skills, or learning how to write good interpretive text);
- Art: the intuition of interpretation (the bit that is hardest to teach – how to instinctively read your audience and know how to hook them in and keep them engaged).
Thinking about interpretation skills this way might make the training requirements for different interpretation tasks easier to conceptualise. We should be able to define the knowledge (science) and skills (craft) that we want interpreters to have.
However (and this is the tricky bit!) it is probably the “art” part that separates the merely competent interpreters from the truly inspirational ones.