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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (June 2013)

 

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … Speechpool!
By Michelle Hof

(The following originally appeared on the author’s blog, The Interpreter Diaries, at www.theinterpreterdiaries.com.)

Some of you may have already heard of Speechpool, a collaborative multilingual website where interpreters can exchange practice material (http://speechpool.net/en). Launched earlier this year with funding from the U.K.’s National Network for Interpreting (NNI), Speechpool is being developed by faculty at the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Leeds. When I first heard of this project in January, I got in touch with Sophie Llewellyn Smith, the founder, to find out more about the program. The following interview details what I learned.

But first, here is a little more background on Sophie Llewellyn Smith. She trained as a conference interpreter at the European Commission in 1994, with French, German, and Greek as her working languages. She served for two years as a temporary agent with the Directorate General for Interpretation (DG Interpretation, also known as SCIC), the European Commission’s interpreting service and conference organizer. She returned to the U.K. in 1996, combining freelance interpreting with interpreter training at the University of Leeds, where she also developed online material for conference interpreter training for NNI and Online Resources for Conference Interpreter Training (ORCIT) projects.

Sophie, you have just launched Speechpool, a speech-sharing website for interpreters. Could you tell me a little bit about what it has to offer?
Speechpool will offer interpreting students, graduates, and practicing interpreters a forum to upload practice speeches and view material other users have uploaded. The idea is to create something truly collaborative in the form of a multilingual website and a Facebook page.

Many students already give each other practice speeches in class or in groups outside of class. It would not be too much of a stretch to record these speeches on a laptop, video camera, or tablet computer and allow others to benefit from them. If everyone gets involved, we could build up a large and dynamic bank of video clips very quickly.

How did the project come about?
I spent several years as an interpreter trainer at the University of Leeds. Every year, students would ask for good sources of practice material. Our main message to them was that they should prepare well-structured speeches for each other and practice in groups outside of class. We gradually developed the idea of uploading audio files onto a file sharing website. We still had a problem with source languages, though; sometimes our students were looking for speeches in a particular C language, but there was no native speaker of that language in the course. It occurred to me that students around the world were probably doing exactly the same thing. Surely it would make sense to pool all of that material and make it freely available to everyone.

Since last summer, I have been working hard with a web developer to create a suitable website, and I have been very fortunate to receive financial backing from NNI in the U.K., along with a lot of help and goodwill from students and alumni of many interpreter training institutions. Now that the basics are in place, we are gradually working on adding more language versions to Speechpool and starting to build up our stock of speeches. The idea behind Speechpool is nothing new, but I hope the scale and ambition of the project and the features available on the website will make it a very useful and widely used resource.

What target group do you have in mind? Are there any prerequisites that have to be met by those who would like to become involved?
The website was designed with conference interpreting students in mind, but if the project is successful, I would expect that other groups might take an interest, such as graduates wanting to maintain their skills or prepare for a test, practicing interpreters trying to add a new language, interpreter trainers looking for material to use in class, or even language learners. It is also possible that the content of Speechpool might be of interest to public service interpreters, who make up a large proportion of the interpreting market in some countries and do not always have access to material (or even to training).

We have set some limits on users who would like to upload material. This is to try to ensure that the speeches are of an adequate standard. You will need to be an interpreting student, graduate, or practicing interpreter to upload content, and you will have to create a login account.

Walk me through the website. How does it work?
First of all, I should say that the interface is multilingual. Currently, there are parallel versions of Speech - pool in English, French, Hungarian, German, Greek, Italian, and Japanese, and it is our hope that dozens of other languages will follow. If you want to watch a speech in Hungarian, for example, you simply go to the Hungarian version of the site (you can navigate from the home page).

To find a speech for interpreting practice, you will use a search function that allows you to search by topic (e.g., agriculture, finance, health, etc.) and/or keyword. We hope this will allow users to refine their searches and find the most relevant speeches.

To upload a speech, you will need to fill in an upload form with details concerning the topic, keywords, and links to background material. In order to avoid the site crashing under the weight of massive video files, we have set it up so that speeches are actually uploaded to YouTube, then embedded in the Speechpool site. This means users will have to create a YouTube account. For those who have concerns about privacy, YouTube allows you to adjust privacy settings to “unlisted,” so that the speech is only visible to those who have the link. It sounds rather complicated, but once you have a YouTube account, it is really very quick and easy. We have counted on the fact that the new generation of interpreters is very comfortable using social media and file sharing platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

What features or functions does Speechpool offer users?
The website has a few interesting features. First, when you have watched a speech, you will be able to leave comments. You will also be able to leave a link to your own interpreting performance (on YouTube) and ask for feedback from other users.

One of the important features of the site is that the difficulty level of these speeches will not be rated by an outside authority. Instead, the users themselves will vote on the perceived difficulty of the speech (a bit like the TripAdvisor site where you can vote on hotels or restaurants). This cumulative assessment by users will give each speech a “star rating” for difficulty. When you search for a speech, not only will you be able to sort the results by star rating, but also based on whether the speech is recent or very popular.

We hope that users will upload high quality speeches, but to address any problems we have created a quality alert button. If you watch a speech and feel there is a significant problem with the sound or image quality, or with the quality of the speech itself (i.e., its content), you will be able to click on the quality alert button and send an e-mail to the site administrators to have the speech removed.

We see Speechpool as an interactive site where users can meet, chat, and ask for feedback or help. To encourage interaction among users, we have created a Speechpool page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Speechpool).  This is where users can ask for a particular speech. For example, you might post, “Could someone please prepare a speech about EU fisheries policies in Portuguese?”

To make the material uploaded to the site even more useful, we are asking users to include two links to relevant background material. We are also working on a way to allow uploads of transcripts and glossaries.

What languages, topics, and interpreting modes will the speeches cover?
I confess that I have taken a maximalist approach here. I cannot vouch in advance for what the speeches will cover, because it depends on who gets involved and uploads speeches. However, the website is designed to accommodate speeches suitable for consecutive or simultaneous, along with a wide range of topics and a truly vast number of languages. We are currently working on versions of the Speechpool site in the 23 official languages of the European Union, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Croatian, Turkish, Icelandic, and Macedonian. After that, we will have to see what comes next!

I should add that I expect Speechpool will include speeches given in a range of accents, including non-native accents. Many interpreters are frequently called upon to interpret for speakers who use an unfamiliar accent or for someone who is not a native speaker. The Speechpool site is designed to offer speeches of this type. There will be an indication of whether the author of the speech is a native speaker and what sort of accent he or she has. One of the exciting things about this project, to my mind, is that it could bring together interpreters from all over the world. For example, students from Ghana, Cameroon, and Mozambique have volunteered to prepare speeches.

There are already a few speech repositories available on the Internet. What added value does Speechpool offer?
There are pros and cons to every speech bank. They serve different purposes.

In a sense, Speechpool is not groundbreaking: there are already speech banks on the Internet set up by students to practice together. They tend to be small-scale and use audio files. Some of them are short-lived; they grind to a halt when the founding students graduate. And, unfortunately, at least one has been taken over by pornographic spam posts. Speechpool can offer something on a much larger scale—wide language coverage, video clips, and it is our hope that the site will be more permanent.

Of the larger-scale speech banks, some offer “live” recordings of political debates or speeches only, while others are libraries of various speeches that were not prepared specifically as pedagogical material for interpreter training. For example, the SCIC/European Parliament repository [author’s note: access to this repository is restricted to selected users] offers a mixture of speeches, some of them recorded live in parliament and others prepared by trainers as pedagogical material.

The idea behind Speechpool is that it should largely contain speeches prepared by students for students (or at least by interpreters for interpreters), in video format. All the material will be original. There will not be any video recordings of political speeches or parliamentary debates. There will be minimal “policing” of the site, and users will be responsible for posting high quality content. If everyone joins in, it will be a very dynamic resource with a rapid turnover and a large number of speeches.

I see Speechpool as a more interactive site than many speech banks, and the Facebook page is a nice opportunity for users to chat and make requests. The fact that users will vote on the difficulty level of the speeches is another distinguishing feature.

All in all, I suppose the added value I see is that Speechpool will allow students to take responsibility for their own learning, but with a much wider pool of partners than might otherwise be possible. In an idealistic way, I see Speechpool as a way of bringing the different strands of the interpreting community together and creating something genuinely collaborative for the common good.

Is the Speechpool site already up and running? Can people use it to view and upload speeches?
The short answer to this is yes. We are still busy testing the site, but some speeches have already been uploaded. As I mentioned previously, the English, French, Hungarian, German, Greek, Italian, and Japanese versions of the site are available, and we will be rolling out other languages gradually. I expect the next few versions of the site will include Spanish and possibly Macedonian.

How can people get involved in Speechpool?
The most important message I want to get across is that Speechpool will be free to use (though not to run) and easy to access once you have created a login account, but, like any other collaborative project, its success will depend on the users. If you can help us translate the content into another language, please e-mail speechpool@gmail.com. More importantly, if you think this is a useful resource for interpreting students and you plan to view speeches and use them for interpreting practice, please upload a few speeches first. Speechpool is totally based on the principle of “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” so get involved! Prepare a speech, upload it to YouTube, and register with a username and password. We will be happy to oblige!

Where can readers find out more?
Information on Speechpool can be found on a number of sites, including:

• I presented the project at the recent SCIC Universities Conference in March, and my presentation is available in the archive (http://bit.ly/W1Gbmm).

• A short clip introducing Speechpool was prepared by the European Commission Directorate General for Interpretation (http://bit.ly/youtube-speechpool).

• The project was featured in a recent video interview for the interpreting blog A Word in Your Ear (http://bit.ly/17OTsoU).

As I said earlier, Speechpool has a dedicated Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Speechpool). Click “like” to receive regular progress updates and to become part of the Speechpool community. You can also follow Speechpool on Twitter (@Speechpool). Most important of all, why not visit the site? You will find it at speechpool.net/en.

Resources for Interpreter Training and Speech Repositories

Directorate General for Interpretation (DG Interpretation – also known as SCIC) is the European Commission’s interpreting service and conference organizer
http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/scic/about-dg-interpretation/index_en.htm

Interpreting.info Speech Wiki
http://bit.ly/Hwn79Z

Interpreter Training Resources
http://interpreters.free.fr/links/practicematerial.htm

Monterey Institute of International Studies
www.miis.edu/bethesolution/interpretation

National Network for Interpreting
www.nationalnetworkforinterpreting.ac.uk

New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies Foreign Languages, Translation, and Interpreting
www.scps.nyu.edu/academics/departments/foreign-languages.html

Online Resources for Conference Interpreter Training
www.orcit.eu

SCIC/European Parliament Speech Repository
www.multilingualspeeches.tv/scic/portal/index.html

Speechpool
http://speechpool.net/en

Speechpool Facebook Page
www.facebook.com/Speechpool

University of Maryland Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation Program
www.gsit.umd.edu

University of Geneva Interpreting Department
ETI live (Database of Audio and Audiovisual Recordings)
http://live.fti.unige.ch