By Sarah Stockler-Rex, CHITM, Analía Lang, CHITM and Tatiana Cestari, PhD, CHITM.

In a recent article, we explored the new normal in VRI and how COVID-19 has changed an already remote world. To put it succinctly, the last year has presented so many rapid changes that the industry itself has had to quickly adapt. Continuing the theme of change in light of our new normal, we spoke with Marjory Bancroft, director and founder of Cross-Cultural Communications (CCC), about how interpreter training has been affected by the pandemic, in some ways, for the better.

CCC has a long-standing reputation for training and curriculum development with an emphasis on interpreting and training quality. This quality is in large part accomplished through CCC’s holistic approach to training and the model in which CCC trains and licenses trainers. They are constantly evolving and updating their content to ensure its relevance to today’s interpreters. Part of this evolution included developing a very interactive online curriculum for self-paced training. That curriculum became even more impactful when the world suddenly shifted to remote work.

Interview with Marjory Bancroft, Director and Founder of Cross-Cultural Communications

Marjory started our interview by sharing some trends she’s noticed from conversations with colleagues in other interpreter training organizations on how they have had to adapt training. “I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to in-person, face-to-face training,” she said. “The question is not ‘when are we?’, but ‘are we?’”

Cloudbreak: How has the demand of interpreter training changed since early 2020?

MB: The demand for 40-hour training hasn’t changed, since the demand for interpreting remains high. Many people, including bilingual people, have lost their jobs in the pandemic and the interpreting field is a profession they can enter and do from home. However, not everyone was well positioned for the pivot to remote. Independent trainers, for example, have had a harder time and need to do some serious marketing to get their names out there.

Cloudbreak: How do you think the trainer’s role has changed?

MB: Pre-COVID, most training was delivered face to face. This included language service companies, government agencies, hospitals, health institutions and others. This is what trainers were used to.

Now the demand has increased dramatically for remote training due to the pandemic. The trainer’s role has shifted from active in-person delivery to active, live remote delivery (synchronous) and possibly developing material such as recordings, exercises or whole courses that are not delivered in a self-paced format and not in real time (asynchronous). Many remote courses these days include trainers managing a combination of synchronous and asynchronous approaches, which we call “hybrid” programs. Others are delivered without a live component and are completely self-paced.

Fortunately, CCC had a foundation laid with The Community Interpreter® Online asynchronous training. One version was launched in 2017 which was fully online but 100% live. However, the demand at the time turned out to be very low. Almost all the inquiries were for self-paced programs. This prompted CCC to invest in asynchronous training.

Many elements of training synchronously online were still very different from face-to-face training. CCC wanted to support its trainers as they made the shift. CCC recruited licensed trainers and other interpreter trainers to attend The Interpreter Trainer Online, a 20-hour intensive training on how to train interpreters effectively online—whether synchronously or asynchronously (or in “hybrid” programs). CCC also began hosting live meetings online for licensed trainers. At the meetings trainers could discuss logistics: what platforms to use, how to conduct role plays online, how to administer tests and how to space out the curriculum (since we can no longer teach 8 hours a day online due to learner fatigue). They could also share strategies to adapt content and activities and, perhaps most importantly, keep people engaged.

“If you are a trainee…you can sign up and take the modules at your leisure at midnight in your pj’s with a cup of tea, anywhere in the world.”

Cloudbreak: In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of remote training for trainers and trainees?

MB: Among the advantages, I would say: If you are a trainee, with asynchronous training you can sign up and take the modules at your leisure at midnight in your pj’s with a cup of tea, anywhere in the world (I have seen more of this now during pandemic).

If you are a trainer or instructional designer, you can spend much more time developing innovative asynchronous content. With a good learning management system (LMS) and instructional design, trainers can achieve good participant engagement through a wide variety of interactive activities, videos, challenges and surprises, engaging visuals, pop quizzes, etc. You also have the advantage of the LMS’ automatic grading and proctoring features. However, the drawback is that you must design materials that trainees cannot daydream their way out of.

For live online training, a good synchronous session can replicate almost all the activities, small group exercises, role plays, feedback and interactive engagement we have in a face-to-face class, if it’s done right. And we’re learning so much, and so fast, about how to do it right!

Also, as a trainer, you have more control over what interpreters learn: knowledge, exercises, role plays, and skill building (if the online curriculum is done right). Finally, you don’t have certain expenses such as travel, refreshments, classroom rental, photocopies and so on.

And, as disadvantages: For trainees, there is less personal engagement with live humans, especially in self-paced programs, which may affect their sense of connection to the interpreting profession– unless they are in a hybrid program where the live component is really well managed. Trainees may also lose out on coaching and feedback unless they are in a program or workplace that offers it.

For both trainees and trainers, learning and teaching ethics and critical decision-making may be challenging in some remote training (especially asynchronous). Nothing can replace the back-and-forth of a synchronous classroom, although live online training can come close.

As a trainer in synchronous programs, you can replicate many things that are missing from asynchronous but it is not the same: you need to have a very strong curriculum, be very competent and engaging as trainer, and promote interaction among participants. In synchronous trainings, you may have to work with smaller class sizes compared to in person.

Also, for both trainees and trainers, fatigue is worse online. Based on my experience, a schedule of 4 hours per day with a 1-hour break after the first 2 hours and then taking 5-10 min breaks is ideal. No 7- or 8-hour days online!

Cloudbreak: Have you seen limitations from trainers adapting to fully remote training? Perhaps some that simply prefer in-person and have stepped away from training until it’s an option again? Or vice versa?

MB: Many refused to go online before the pandemic. However, even with struggles, many found a way to adapt. Some agencies are postponing having us train for them until we can train in person again.

Cloudbreak: Marjory, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It is always a pleasure to learn from you!

MB: Absolutely my pleasure! And I hope you plan to mention the new textbook and training program you three are involved with! It’s CCC’s biggest project of 2021— The Remote Interpreter. Nothing like it exists in the world yet—a comprehensive textbook and training program on how to perform remote interpreting in almost any specialization. The book and curriculum will fill a big hole in interpreter training—we’re super excited about it.

Our interview with Marjory Bancroft from CCC confirmed how complex training and education can be, especially for interpreting. Training adults for a dynamic practice that involves a great deal of self-evaluation requires a holistic approach to learning. This becomes especially important for those learning remotely and/or asynchronously, which has become the norm.

Online training for interpreters requires a holistic approach, one that helps develop critical thinking, understanding, empathy and patience. All of these elements are needed in order to help interpreters adhere to interpreting best practices and the code of ethics, and better serve end users.

Also, a holistic approach does not stop after an interpreter becomes qualified. Interpreters will need to engage in ongoing professional development for continual growth, advancement and success.