Empirical studies

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“I FAILED BECAUSE I GOT VERY NERVOUS”. ANXIETY AND PERFORMANCE IN INTERPRETER TRAINEES: AN EMPIRICAL STUDY Amparo Jiménez Ivars and Daniel Pinazo Calatayud Universitat Jaume I, Castellón Fear of public speaking and anxiety It goes without saying that conference interpreting is a very stressful activity not least because it involves the performance of a series of complex cognitive and psychomotoroperations in public or at least for the public. During the process of interpreting training the high levels of stress experienced by students when having to speak (interpret) in public can become one of the major obstacles in the early stages. Stress becomes evident through symptoms of anxiety currently defined by psychologists as a normal innate emotional alarm response to the anticipation ofdanger or threat. Anxiety emerges very soon during the early training stages even when students “only” have to make monolingual presentations in front of their peers and teacher in language A or B. Those levels of anxiety do not decrease easily when monolingual presentations become real consecutive interpretations involving complex cognitive processes of language and cultural transfer. The climax isreached the day of the final consecutive interpreting examination where an attempt is made to simulate a real life situation at the University of Castellón. There are students who cannot stand the stress and abandon the exam moments before sitting it. Sometimes they even show physical symptoms (tears, difficulty in breathing, sickness, etc.). Many interpretation teachers feel they have to turninto ad hoc psychotherapists during office hours, trying to allay students’ terrors of interpreting even after ordinary class sessions. The capacity to control stress has traditionally been considered one of the requisites for interpreting (Cooper, Davies and Tung 1982; Moser-Mercer 1985; Longley 1989; Klonowicz 1994; Gile 1995; Moser-Mercer, Künzli and Korac 1998) and a predictor for interpretingcompetence (Alexieva 1997). Although the number of empirical studies about the influence of stress in interpreting performance is scarce, there is a wide consensus that stress is intrinsic to interpreting – both in the consecutive and simultaneous mode – even though its impact is not clearly defined (Brisau, Godijns and Meuleman 1994). Interpreting research on stress has revolved around theprofessional realm, focusing mainly on the physiological responses to stress during interpreting and on performance: cardiovascular activity (Klonowicz 1994), causes of stress (Cooper et al. 1982), and the relation between stress and quality in prolonged interpreting turns


Amparo Jiménez and Daniel Pinazo

through chemical and physiological analysis (Moser-Mercer et al. 1998). Littleempirical research has been carried out on interpreting students (Riccardi et al. 1998). The capacity to control stress in interpreting is sometimes taken into account in interpreting entrance exams (Moser-Mercer 1985). On those occasions the capacity to cope with a situation of continuous stress during a relatively long time is considered more important than actual performance per se, providedcandidates show a minimum number of skills. Apparently, some candidates had to admit that they could not cope and abandoned the test (MoserMercer 1985). It can be inferred, especially from students’ comments, that the anxiety they feel when they have first to speak and later to interpret in public may arise basically from fear of public speaking (among other causes). Let us analyse from a psychologicalpoint of view the possible origins of the two conditions that can hinder performance – fear of public speaking and anxiety. Public speaking is generally considered to be a stressful social situation (Montorio, Guerrero and Izal 1991) that may have negative consequences leading to poor professional or academic outcomes (Greer 1965; GutiérrezCalvo and García-González 1999). Most studies on the fear...
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