| by Jessie Raymond

News Stories

Spanish panel
A panel from the Spanish-speaking cohort discusses human rights issues in Bolivia. (Credit: Marie Butcher )

A recent multilingual Human Rights Forum at Irvine Auditorium allowed student presenters and interpreters to apply their classroom learning in a live conference setting.

The forum, held over two dates in October, took the form of a simulated conference—live, but without an audience—based on the Monterey Model. Like its larger counterpart, this Monterey Mini-Model showcased language studies students presenting their research—in this case, on the theme of human rights—in their nonnative languages. Interpreting practicum students provided simultaneous interpretation into English and relayed that into French, Spanish, Chinese, and (with the help of an outside interpreter) Arabic.

Tackling sensitive subjects around international human rights, students gave talks and held panel discussions in Spanish and English on October 21 and Arabic and French on October 28. Faculty facilitators were Sabino Morera, Spanish; Marie Butcher, English; Rana Issa, Arabic; and Abdelkader Berrahmoun, French. 

Butcher, head of the English for Academic and Professional Purposes program and the conference organizer, chose the human rights theme in honor of her late friend and colleague, Jan Knippers Black. Black, who came to the Institute in 1991, was a renowned human rights advocate. Upon her retirement in 2018, she established the Jan Knippers Black Fund for Human Rights Protection, which supports student work and speakers in the human rights arena.

Though COVID restrictions prohibited a live audience, Butcher says the venue and the format had all the atmosphere of a well-attended event, something students have missed for the better part of two years. She called it “a very dynamic environment,” explaining that “the students really had to step up, they had to deliver as if they were in a full-capacity auditorium. It was very exciting, and they felt that.”

English panel
A member of the English-speaking cohort talks about the challenges of the pandemic. (Credit: Marie Butcher )

Time in the Booth

For some interpreting students, the forum marked their first opportunity to practice their skills in a live setting. Dmitry Buzadzhi, who coteaches the interpretation practicum, says it’s a crucial difference. “It’s one thing to interpret for no one, just for practice, when nobody’s actually needing interpretation. It’s an entirely different thing where people rely on interpretation and can’t participate otherwise. It makes a world of difference to interpreters because they are on their toes and know it’s not just an exercise.”

Chinese booth
In the booth, interpreting practicum students relay English interpretations into Chinese. (Credit: Clara Clymer )

Students also got to experience the behind-the-scenes work that comes with interpreting. “Some of our students were in charge of liaising with the organizers, with the speakers, distributing materials, dealing with what you do if you get materials in a language you don’t understand, all of this,” Buzadzhi says. He emphasizes the value of getting time in one of Irvine’s four interpreting booths, saying one’s success in the field depends as much on their interpreting skills as on how well they can work with a partner in the tight quarters of the booth. “You learn all these things by doing,” he says. “You get to know what makes noise and what doesn’t, where you can fit your laptop and where you just can’t fit it. Also, you have to decide on some of the basic things, like who begins, how you keep track of time, how you switch.”

The Hybrid Format

Some presenters took part remotely, so the forum was conducted in a hybrid format. Butcher’s English-speaking cohort, for example, indicates the complexity: “I had two in-person groups, one hybrid group with somebody on the screen and two in the room, and the last one was all prerecorded because the participants were in Beijing,” she says.

Buzadzhi says this hybrid format made interpreting much more difficult. Under normal circumstances, he says, you can focus just on interpreting. “When you have to do remote interpretation or hybrid, all of these extra layers, buttons to press, different headsets, different mics, making sure that your sound is going to the right source—this is something that simultaneous interpreters never had to deal with before.”

While chief interpreter Matt Schetina, a second-year student in the Translation and Interpretation program, concedes that the hybrid style made the work more challenging, he thinks it could become the norm. “It seemed like a great window into the future of multilingual/international conferences in the post-COVID world,” he says. 

Despite the difficulties of the format, Schetina appreciated the personal interaction, an aspect of interpreting that has largely been missing during the pandemic, as public events on campus have been restricted. “My favorite part of collaborating on the Human Rights Forum was getting to strategize across different departments at MIIS,” he says. “It was a great opportunity to meet students and faculty outside of my department and a good reminder that managing interpretation projects requires proactive conversation and cooperation.”

Calling the hybrid format of the forum “an incredible tech challenge and interpretation challenge,” Butcher is proud of how hard students and faculty worked to make it successful. “We pulled out all the stops,” she says.

The Legacy of Jan Knippers Black

Butcher says the Human Rights Forum accomplished its goals. “We’ve had an incredible opportunity for collaboration among the language study students at MIIS. We’ve prepared them and given them this opportunity for a professional multilingual conference, and we’ve been able to honor the late, great Jan Knippers Black in this way by focusing on human rights.”

For Butcher, that last part—recognizing her friend’s legacy—made this forum particularly special.

“I really wanted to do this to honor her,” she says.