Preparing for the BEI Trilingual Interpreting Performance Exam

The Interpreter’s Rx, a resource originally designed for training Spanish-English medical interpreters, can instead be used to help you prepare for the trilingual-interpreting performance exams given by the Texas Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI). Currently, these exams—the “Trilingual Advanced” and the “Trilingual Master” —are the only known standardized performance exams to test a candidate’s abilities in interpreting English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. Unfortunately, very few if any materials have been produced to train trilingual interpreters for either real-life interpreting situations or trilingual certification exams. However, people interested in becoming professional, trilingual interpreters can make use of materials designed for spoken language interpreters and adapt them to practice skills that also involve ASL.

According to the 2011 Study Guide for Trilingual Interpreter Certification Candidates, both the Trilingual Advanced and the Trilingual Master performance exams consist of four parts; they differ mainly in the complexity of the languages and settings presented and the speed of the speakers or signers. Descriptions of the four parts are given below, as they appear in the Study Guide.

  • Part A  Three-Person Interactive: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of a conversation among three people and render the spoken English into ASL and spoken Spanish, the ASL into spoken English and Spanish, and the spoken Spanish into ASL and spoken English.
  • Part B  Expressive Interpreting: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of spoken Spanish and render it into ASL. It is important that your rendition be into ASL, and not into signed English.
  • Part C  Receptive Interpreting: In this part, you are asked to watch a video recording of a presentation in ASL and render it into spoken Spanish.
  • Part D  Sight Translation: In Sight Translation (sometimes called “Sight Interpreting”), the source language is written rather than spoken or signed language. At the beginning of this part, you are instructed to (1) read and sight translate a short, written English document into spoken Spanish, and (2) read and sight translate a short, written Spanish document into spoken English.

There are two immediate challenges in the design of this exam for the average interpreter. The first, of course, is that the candidate cannot know beforehand the type of setting or topic for each of the parts. However, the Study Guide does indicate that for the Trilingual Advanced exam the content is based on “the language found in routine educational and social service settings” and some examples are “K-12 educational and administrative interactions and information, professional development seminars, application for services, and counseling sessions.” For the Trilingual Master exam, the language is more complex and is based on “high-stakes settings, such as medical, mental health, quasi-legal, and educational settings.” Some examples for this exam are “patient information forms, legal proceedings, meetings with medical specialists, and special education meetings.”

The other significant challenge for candidates is that some of the techniques required to complete the interpreting tasks are seldom taught in interpreter training programs. For example, Part A requires the candidate to interpret simultaneously into the first target language and consecutively into the second target language. While most interpreters do learn simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting, except for a few workshops to date, they rarely get the chance to practice combining these two methods into one interpreted situation. Candidates will also likely struggle with Part D, because sight translation is not a well-known part of the interpreting curriculum.

Fortunately, there’s The Interpreter’s Rx, by Holly Mikkelson. The book, with accompanying audio CDs, is designed to train Spanish-English medical interpreters in the three modes of interpreting: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting. The sight translation section consists of actual forms and documents that a medical interpreter might encounter on an assignment, the consecutive interpreting section consists of interactions between English speakers and Spanish speakers, and the simultaneous interpreting section consists of presentations given in English and Spanish. Candidates who use this resource will not only develop their skills in the three modes of interpreting, but also acquire a significant vocabulary in English and Spanish of medical terminology. The book includes a bilingual glossary and bilingual diagrams of the body.

To prepare for Part A of the exam, you can focus on the consecutive interpreting section of The Interpreter’s Rx. When you hear English, interpret simultaneously into ASL, and then interpret into Spanish. When you hear the Spanish response, interpret simultaneously into ASL, and then interpret into English. Keep in mind, however, that the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams will also include a person using ASL, which you should interpret, for example, simultaneously into English, and then into Spanish. You will have to find different source material to practice this skill.

Use the simultaneous interpreting section to help you prepare for part B. Pick a presentation given in Spanish and listen to the audio; interpret it into ASL simultaneously. A transcript of the text is included in the book; be sure to read over it and look up any unfamiliar vocabulary before you start interpreting. This is not cheating: you’re developing specialized medical vocabulary and learning how to refine your skills in simultaneous interpreting.

As has been mentioned, The Interpreter’s Rx was designed for Spanish-English interpreting; this article is merely suggesting its use because it’s a way to prepare for the exams and for real-life trilingual interpreting situations, given that no known materials exist for practicing all three languages combined. As such, there is no source material in ASL to help you prepare for Part C. For this part, you may try using many of the ASL source videos available for practicing simultaneous interpreting into English, and interpret them into Spanish instead.

Finally, use the sight translation section to help you prepare for Part D. In this case, The Interpreter’s Rx is an ideal practice resource because on the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams, Part D only involves Spanish and English.

By following along in the The Interpreter’s Rx and thinking of ways to include practice in ASL, you will be well on your way to mastering the modes of interpreting. The book will also give you ample practice in medical terminology, but as you know, the Trilingual Advanced and Trilingual Master exams may involve other settings. Once you are comfortable with the modes of interpreting, seek out other materials to practice terminology related to other settings. For example, Holly Mikkelson has also produced The Interpreter’s Edge, a resource for Spanish-English legal interpreting that has helped many interpreter attain Spanish-English court interpreter certification.

It is hoped that in the future specialized materials can be developed specifically for trilingual interpreters. In the meantime, be creative and make use of the resources that are currently available.

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