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Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN 1539-8072 April 2012, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1065-1073

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Learner Autonomy via Self-Assessment in Consecutive Interpreting for Novice Learners in a Non-Interpreting Environment

Noraini Ibrahim-González, Noraiha Noordin

Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

This paper discusses the implementation of self-assessment in consecutive interpreting among novice learners in a

non-interpreting environment specifically referring to the interpreting courses offered at USM (Universiti Sains

Malaysia), being the only bachelor’s degree programme in Translation and Interpreting in Malaysia, and the

learners’ perception on this mode of assessment with the goal of fostering learner autonomy among them. Such

implementation was made possible with the shift from analogue technology to digital technology, the deployment

of e-learning in the course instruction, and the shift from teacher-centred learning approach to student-centred

learning approach in line with the university’s APEX (Accelerated Programme for Excellence) transformation plan.

Findings show a high acceptance level of self-assessment among novice learners of interpreting.

Keywords: consecutive interpreting, learner autonomy, student-centred approach, self-assessment

Introduction

USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia) is the only university offering BATI (Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in Translation and Interpreting) in Malaysia. In 2008, USM was granted the APEX (Accelerated Programme for Excellence) status. In its APEX transformation plan, USM is reviewing its activities in all areas including transforming nurturing and learning by raising student-centred learning, adopting alternative assessment, and promoting technology-enhanced education system, among others (Abdul Razak & Mohamed, 2008). In other words, increasing learner autonomy among its students is on the university’s transformation agenda. Therefore, in line with the university’s transformation plan in promoting learner autonomy, interpreting courses in the BATI programme have undergone two important didactical changes since mid-2009: the shift from analogue technology to digital technology and the introduction of e-learning in the course instruction. These changes are pivotal in introducing blended learning environment, allowing the shift from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning and opening up the path to learner autonomy among students

Acknowledgements: This paper was presented at the II Congreso Internacional sobre Calidad en Interpretación—The 2nd International Conference on Interpreting Quality in Almuñecar, Granada, Spain on March 24, 25, and 26, 2011, under the sponsorship of Universiti Sains Malaysia Overseas Conference Fund (TPLN-RCMO) and published under the Universiti Sains Malaysia Short Term Research Grant Fund 2011/2013 (304/PHUMANITI/6310095). Noraini Ibrahim-González, senior lecturer at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Noraiha Noordin, a research assistant at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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(Ibrahim-González, 2011). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the implementation of self-assessment in consecutive interpreting and the learners’ perception on this mode of assessment in promoting learner autonomy.

Learner Autonomy Learner autonomy can be defined as:

The ability to take charge of one’s own learning; to have, and to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning, i.e., determining the objectives; defining the contents and progressions; selecting methods and techniques to be used; monitoring the procedure of acquisition properly speaking (rhythm, time, place, etc.). (Holec, 1981, p. 3)

Holec (1988) further highlighted that learner autonomy is not an automatic obligation among students:

… Just as the ability to drive a motor vehicle does not necessarily mean that whenever one gets into a car one is obliged to take the wheel, similarly the autonomous learner is not automatically obliged to self-direct his learning either totally or even partially. The learner will make use of his ability to do this only if he so wishes and if he is permitted to do so by the material, social and psychological constraints to which he is subjected. (p. 8)

Therefore, as Little (2003) pointed out, “The practice of learner autonomy requires insight, a positive attitude, a capacity for reflection, and a readiness to be proactive in self-management and in interaction with others”. This means that autonomous learners take the responsibility for their learning by deciding what, when, and how to learn. By encouraging them to adopt learner autonomy in their learning, students are able to set realistic goals, plan their work, develop coping strategies for new and unexpected situations, and perform self-evaluation and self-assessment of their work. This gives them a chance “to learn how to learn from their own successes and failures in ways which will help them to be more efficient learners in the future” (Crabbe, 1993, as cited in Rao, 2006, p. 114). Little (1995, p. 7) also mentioned that there is a misconception about learner autonomy, i.e., students are given 100% responsibility in learning, without the presence of a teacher. In autonomous learning, teachers do not play the conventional primary role of transmitting knowledge (teacher-centred learning) but are “autonomous teachers who are organisers, advisers, and sources of information” (Horváth, 2007, p. 104), who facilitate learning and manage learning resources by bringing the learners to the to the point where students accept equal responsibility of learning; a coproduction at affective and organizational levels (Little, 1995, p. 178). Thus, although teachers’ roles have shifted in autonomous learning, their roles are still important in promoting learner autonomy as emphasized by Sert (2006), “… If the teachers who are supposed to teach their students how to take the wheel are not good drivers themselves, the whole system will be at risk” (p. 196). Since a fruitful coproduction between the students and teachers is essential in promoting and achieving learner autonomy, the teacher must determine the aspects and the extent where learner autonomy can be sought from the students in terms of learning objectives, learning materials, and assessment of their learning process. This will largely depend on factors such as the institutional framework, the learners’ age group and educational background, and in language learning, target language competence (Little, 1995, p. 179). Horváth (2007) pointed out that permanent learning, good listening comprehension, and language skills are professional requirements in interpreting. In order to be able to practise lifelong learning, interpreter-trainees “must learn how to learn and must possess the necessary learning strategies that make it possible for them to meet

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professional requirements” (pp. 104-105). For this to materialize, they must achieve learner autonomy, i.e., become autonomous learners by being capable to “direct their learning cognitively: They must know how to plan, monitor and evaluate”.

Self-assessment Self-assessment is an essential element of autonomous learning (Gardner, 1999, p. 50). According to Lee (2005), self-assessment in interpreting training refers to:

Students taking the initiative in their leaning by analyzing and assessing their own performances, finding strategies for improvement, and monitoring their own progress over time… (which) allows students to be in more control of their learning, be responsible for their learning objectives and the learning process.

Furthermore, Falchikov and Goldfinch (2000) pointed out that self-assessment is “a private activity which may involve little or no knowledge of the work or performance of others” (p. 317). This means that learners become independent and sole assessors of their work and performance. Lee (2005) further reiterated that self-assessment is important in both training and professional phases of interpreters. Interpreter-trainees should learn how to assess themselves, because when they eventually become interpreters, they are responsible for their own performance quality; “They are left on their own to check their interpretation quality and find measures for improvement on their own” (Lee, 2005). If they are taught to self-assess their performance during training, they do not have to rely on others for assessment and improvement, because even though clients can also assess the interpreters’ performance, their feedback will be in the form of complaints (Lee, 2005). Thus, to avoid unpleasant experiences for both clients and interpreters, interpreter-trainees must be equipped with the knowledge of self-assessment and learner autonomy upon entering the profession.

Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting at USM

USM is the only university offering a BATI in Malaysia. The programme was established in 1992 and has produced over 800 graduates to date. It is offered at the School of Humanities.

BATI Interpreting Courses Ibrahim-González (2010) highlighted several constraints with regards to interpreting courses offered in the programme. Among them are: (1) high teacher-student ratio. Currently the ratio is one teacher to 41 students. There are two teachers teaching the courses; (2) its teacher-centred learning due to the analogue technology in class instruction; and (3) the programme’s working languages. The current language pair is only Malay and English despite the non-homogeneity of mother-tongues among students. The various mother-tongues are Malay, Mandarin, English, and Tamil, while the instructors’ working language combination is Malay and English. This means that only a certain percentage of them have the advantage of interpreting into their mother tongue. Upon graduation, the majority of the BATI students do not become neither community nor conference interpreters which makes the programme an “interpreter training” in a non-interpreting environment (Ibrahim-González, 2010, p. 116).

Didactical Changes in the Interpreting Courses During the teacher-centred learning era, students were required to attend a two-hour recording session weekly and recorded their interpretations using tape cassettes. Now, with student-centred learning approach, students use their laptops or personal computers, headphones, and microphones, to perform their weekly recordings at their own

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pace, anytime and anywhere using freeware audio recording applications such Wave Pad Sound Editor. Texts to be interpreted are provided to the students in two ways: (1) Audio texts and interpreting exercise instructions are uploaded onto e-learning portal; and (2) Video texts are burned on a DVD and students can view the interpreting exercise instructions via the e-learning portal. These weekly assignments with specific instructions are uploaded onto the USM e-learning portal and all students access the same information and instructions at their own convenience. They then submit their digital recordings directly to the portal. Beside the portal, students are required to create a Dropbox account (Available at www.dropbox.com) and “drop” their recordings into their personal dropboxes which are shared with the instructor’s. One interesting feature of asynchronous online submission of oral assignments is that one can listen to the audio files without downloading them. This eases storing and access as well as looking up for a particular student’s assignments (Ibrahim-González, 2010). Previously, assessment of students’ interpretations was only done by the instructor. The adoption of CMC (Computer-mediated Communication) and student-centred learning environment in the course instruction made it possible to introduce and integrate cooperative assessment in the interpreting courses—self, peer, and teacher assessments. Two methods of self-assessment have been introduced to students: (1) asynchronous auto-graded listening comprehension exercises which include listening and translation exercises, and (2) consecutive interpreting assignments using assessment grids (assessment sheet). However, this paper will only focus on the latter, the learners’ perception of self-assessment in consecutive interpreting in promoting learner autonomy.

Methods

Subjects The subjects chosen for this research were final year students of the BATI programme with an average age of 23. At the time of research, they were enrolled in simultaneous interpreting course (semester 2, 2010/11), and took consecutive interpreting course in the previous semester (semester 1, 2010/11). There were a total of 41 students who came from two different education systems: 61% underwent the Chinese school system and 39% underwent the national/vernacular (Malay) school system.

Assessment Criteria Students were asked to interpret English texts into their mother-tongues (Malay or Chinese). Later, using an assessment sheet, they were asked to rate their performance based on three categories: delivery, language, and message using a 5-point scale (very good, good, average, bad, and very bad). The items in the message category are sense errors, additions, omissions, and replacements. The items for language category include grammatical errors, word and terminology choices, and wrong pronunciation. The delivery category includes voice clarity, fluency, intonation, and coherence. Students were also provided the transcript of the original speech in the assessment sheet to assist them in assessing the message category correctly. They would then carry out a visual inspection of their output by transcribing their interpretation and comparing it with the transcript of the original speech.

Online Questionnaire Survey To find out students’ perception on self-assessment, an online survey was carried out after students have

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completed four self-assessment exercises. A set of questionnaire was designed using Moodle Course Management System. The items in the questionnaire were adapted from Lee’s (2005) findings on self-assessment among Korean graduate students of Translation and Interpreting. The questionnaire consisted of two sections with a total of 10 close-ended items (see Table 1) to be rated using a 5-point rating scale (strongly agree (SA), agree (A), indifferent (I), disagree (D), and strongly disagree (SD)) and one open-ended question for additional feedback or comments on their experiences using self-assessment. One interesting feature of Moodle questionnaire is the automatic analysis of the survey’s results (see Figure 1). In addition, via Moodle questionnaire, students’ were granted anonymity and were labelled from 1 to 38.

Table 1 Results of the Online Questionnaire on Perception of Self-assessment Among Students

Item Percentage (%)
Item
Percentage (%)

SA

A

I

D

SD

18.0

66.0

11.0

5.0

0.0

11.0

65.0

16.0

8.0

0.0

20.0

50.0

20.0

10.0

0.0

29.0

53.0

18.0

0.0

0.0

24.0

58.0

13.0

5.0

0.0

21.0

60.0

8.0

11.0

0.0

18.0

47.0

29.0

3.0

3.0

24.0

58.0

13.0

5.0

0.0

21.0

53.0

21.0

5.0

0.0

26.0

63.0

8.0

3.0

0.0

Section A: General opinion Self-assessment has been a useful and effective method of learning for this course. Section B: In what ways was self-assessment useful? Self-assessment has been useful in helping me improve my interpreting performance. Self-assessment gives me the opportunity to interpret into my A-language despite the fact that my instructor’s A-language is different than mine. Self-assessment has been useful in helping me identify my linguistic weaknesses. Self-Assessment has been useful in helping me identify the most problematic area in my interpretation. Self-assessment has been useful in helping me analyse my performance in an objective manner. Self-assessment has been useful in helping me monitor my progress overtime. The use of assessment criteria (assessment sheet) aids me in assessing my performance. Visual inspection of my interpretation (transcribing activity) helps me improve my performance. Visual inspection of my interpretation (transcribing activity) helps me identify specific problematic areas/errors.

helps me identify specific problematic areas/errors. Figure 1. Moodle Course Management System questionnaire

Figure 1. Moodle Course Management System questionnaire analysis feature.

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Results and Discussion

Results from the study are presented in two sections: a 10-item analysis of the students’ perceptions on self-assessment (Table 1) and additional feedbacks from the students. Thirty-eight students responded the online questionnaire, giving a response rate of 92.7%. Out of the 38 students who responded the questionnaire, 20 were Chinese Mandarin speakers (52.6% of total respondents). These students were given the opportunity to interpret into their A-language during tutorials and online interpreting assignments. Item 3 in Section B of the questionnaire was addressed to this group of students.

Students’ Perceptions on Self-assessment: Questionnaire Analysis As can be seen from Table 1, 84.0% of the students strongly agree and agree that self-assessment has been a useful and effective method of learning interpreting. This shows a high acceptance level in adopting self-assessment among students as a part of the learning process. With regard to how self-assessment has been useful to the students, the results show that the most important feature of self-assessment that the students benefited from was the visual inspection of their interpretation; it helped them identify specific problematic areas they faced and errors they made (89.0% strongly agree and agree). More than 80% of the students strongly agreed and agreed that self-assessment was useful in helping them identify their overall linguistic weaknesses and pin-point the most problematic area in their interpretation, helping them in analysing their performance in an objective matter and that the use of assessment criteria helped them assess their performance. This demonstrates that self-assessment with visual inspection is an effective tool in helping the students identify the key area(s) that they need to improve on. In relation to whether self-assessment and visual inspection of their output have been useful as tools to improve their interpreting performance, more than 70% strongly agreed and agreed to these statements. Sixty-five percent of the students strongly agreed and agreed that self-assessment has been useful in helping them monitor their progress overtime. This is probably due to the fact that one has to take the time factor into account in order to monitor progress and see improvement. Students might have better experience in self-assessment and see improvement with more self-assessment exercises in a longer period of time. Seventy percent of the 20 Chinese respondents strongly agreed and agreed that self-assessment gave them the opportunity to interpret into their A-language despite the fact that the instructor’s A-language is different than theirs. This shows that self-assessment is a potential tool in the didactics of interpreting for novice learners of various A-languages provided that they must achieve a certain level of learner autonomy.

Students’ Experiences on Self-assessment: Additional Feedbacks This section discusses feedbacks received from the respondents regarding their personal experiences, the problems they face, and in what ways self-assessment have or have not helped them. These feedbacks in many ways help improve self-assessment experience among interpreting students in the future.

(1) I think self-assessment is very useful to me. Actually I was afraid to listen to my own interpreting but with self-assessment, like it or not, I was forced to listen to it. And it surprised me because it was not so bad listening to our own voice even I was mumbling around. Because it makes me feel like I must do better next time. So I think self-assessment really should be done by the student so that we know our own weaknesses. (Student 36, personal communication, 2011) (2) Self-assessment is useful in improving oneself. I find that the harshest critic is often ourselves and where people refuse to comment on our weaknesses because they do not wish to hurt our feelings, we are forced to confront and deal with

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it. Self assessment should be given more priority than peer assessment. (Student 30, personal communication, 2011) (3) Through this activity, I could identify the mistakes that I did in my interpretation so that I could improve myself in due time. Besides, self-assessment helps me improve my performance, especially via the transcribing activity because I have to listen to every single word that I’ve interpreted, and it helps me correct myself. (Student 32, personal communication, 2011) (4) It’s fun to learn from mistakes. So, I think self-assessment really helps me a lot. (Student 33, personal communication, 2011) (5) It might a little bit time consuming, but it’s a good activity to help students to improve their weakness. (Student 16, personal communication, 2011) (6) Although self-assessment is time consuming, I can learn about my own mistake in the interpretation. For example,

when I listened again to my recording, I found that I have difficulties in the pronunciation part. So, through self assessment,

I will pay more attention on my pronunciation in next interpretation exercise. Although I still haven’t improved much but at least I know my own weakness in the interpretation. (Student 17, personal communication, 2011) (7) May be there are some disadvantages for self-assessment such as it does require quite lot of time but I never feel

like it’s to burden or it’s not useful because it is useful. When I listen to my interpretation, I know my weaknesses. I do have

a moment when I felt like “I don’t like the way I interpret” or “God, I can do better!” and despite all that I got my lesson and

I learn something from my mistakes. And I know it takes time for me to improve because when I do my interpreting it just comes naturally. But let’s take one step at a time, I know my weaknesses and the next step is to keep improving. (Student 36, personal communication, 2011)

As can be seen from the above feedbacks, students did not find it easy to carry out self-assessment at the beginning. This shows that if self-assessment is only suggested but not made compulsory, students might find it intimidating and might not attempt it at all. The idea of implementing self-assessment in this course is to introduce the students to one of the methods that can they adopt in order to improve their interpreting skills, not in the short run but as a lifelong learning process.

(8) Personally, self-assessment is time consuming, particularly when transcribing the interpretation, but it’s worth it because I have learned how to improve my interpreting skill as well as my transcribing skill. (Student 32, personal communication, 2011) (9) I spent quite some time in completing the self-assessment especially when transcribing the audio. Other than that, I do not like to listen to my own audio as I find it awkward to listen to my own voice. And sometimes it is difficult to spot my own mistakes as most of the time I think that what has been done is right. (Student 21, personal communication, 2011) (10) Transcribing work is useful but when the recording is too long, I’ll become frustrated. (Student 8, personal communication, 2011)

In the effort to promote learner autonomy via self-assessment among students, the teacher must consider the aspect of time taken to complete the exercises especially when dealing with undergraduate students in a non-interpreting environment. In this case, interpreting courses are compulsory for them despite their interests and linguistic capabilities, thus, some students may show a certain degree of unwillingness to cooperate in this type of activity. Therefore, the teacher has to strike a balance so that the activity is not too draining and frustrating for certain group of students.

(11) I can’t really recognize all the mistakes and misinterpretations because the same message may mean differently to different people. (Student 31, personal communication, 2011) (12) Although self-assessment is helpful but I still think that I need tutor assessment. This is because I do not have much confidence in myself. (Student 12, personal communication, 2011) (13) Self-assessment is okay as long as there is tutor/peer assessment to see other problems that we don’t notice. (Student 4, personal communication, 2011)

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Probably due to their language command, level of maturity (undergraduate students) and other factors such as extra-linguistic skills, novice learners still need guidance from the teachers in improving their interpreting skills via self-assessment in order to achieve full learner autonomy. With regard to peer assessment, the author agrees with Lee’s (2005) recommendation that students should begin with their own self-assessment so that “Students will be more familiar with the concept and the mechanics before assessing someone else’s performance”. Nevertheless, the findings show that students need teachers to guide them on the concept assimilation and mechanics of assessment especially at the initial stage.

Conclusions

As a conclusion, results clearly show a high acceptance level on self-assessment among novice learners, as well as the use of assessment criteria and the visual inspection of their interpretations. Therefore, this demonstrates that the students have acknowledged the importance of self-assessment as a method to improve their interpreting skill in the long run. In addition, they have achieved partial learner autonomy, because they still require teacher’s assessment and feedback on their performances, teacher’s guidance on how to carry out assessment as well as teacher’s feedback on the assessment that they have done. In order to improve self-assessment and achieve a higher level of learner autonomy among novice learners of interpreting, the teacher must consider the length of the texts and the total time spent on completing the task. This factor is important in making sure students perform effective self-assessments that would encourage, not discourage learner autonomy. As emphasised by Horváth (2007), Little (1995, 2003), and Sert (2006), students must not be left alone to venture into learner autonomy, but teachers, being autonomous themselves, must complement the students’ efforts and play a primary role in teaching and guiding them on how to become autonomous until they are able to accept and apply the concept of autonomous learners. Thus, other modes of assessment such as teacher assessment is still important especially at the initial stage of the introduction of self-assessment. Nevertheless, these findings can be considered as a significant achievement of learner autonomy for novice learners of interpreting given the fact that they may not become interpreters after graduation. However, they would be able to utilize this knowledge and experience to help them if they were to be assigned as interpreters in the future. Promoting and achieving learner autonomy is a lengthy and labourious process for both learners and teachers but exhilarating when one reaps the harvest one has sown.

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