This thesis concerns the teaching of interpreting by distance mode - an area into which virtually no research has been made. Interpreting consists of the oral translation of messages from one language into another. This research targets the area of teaching liaison interpreting only, rather than simultaneous interpreting. Liaison interpreting is a dynamic communication process that involves both verbal and visual interaction between the interpreter and the speaker(s) and requires a good command of interpersonal communication skills on the part of the interpreter. Factors contributing to a successful interpreted communication include the interpreter's linguistic competence, transfer skills and paralinguistic skills etc.
Due to the strongly interactive feature of interpreting, face-to-face teaching in a language laboratory has long been the dominant way in training interpreters. Teaching interpreting with the teachers and students in different locations has not been attempted until very recently, due to pedagogical and practical constraints. As a result, formal interpreter training programs are generally offered around the world by on-campus mode only.
A number of issues concerning training programs and the employment prospects of graduates have arisen. For instance, some candidates who are keen to undertake interpreting programs are likely to be excluded because they live far away from teaching institutions or have full-time work commitments; a continuing influx of graduates in one location is likely to flood the market, impeding the employment prospects of students and eventually create financial problems for training institutions; the demand for training interpreters in rare languages is difficult to meet due to insufficient students to form a class; and the advantages of modem telecommunication technologies are not utilised for the benefits of the education community at large - including education institutions, teachers and students.
Therefore research into the feasibility of teaching interpreting by distance mode is of great significance, not only for consolidating and further developing interpreting education by providing insights from a new perspective, but also for providing input to the development of theory for teaching interpreting by distance mode - a theory which is at present virtually non-existent. Since research in this area is extremely limited, this study was largely conducted on an empirical basis involving different disciplines. This research investigated some existing interpreting programs and conventional interpreting pedagogy, as well as relevant theories in the fields of interpreting, interpreting pedagogy and distance education. Currently available telecommunication technologies were also investigated in terms of their technical applicability, pedagogical efficiency and financial affordability. Based on the findings from the above aspects, a training program with theoretically and pedagogically valid and pragmatically feasible approaches and strategies was established and a teaching experiment conducted with two groups of students: one being an on-campus group (the control group) to be trained in the conventional face-toface manner and the other off-campus group (the test group) to be trained by distance mode. The training program lasted for 13 weeks or 39 hours, with 3 contact hours per week. The media used in the research included sound-only teleconferencing, telephone, the Internet, audio and video tapes. The students' interpreting skills including language transfer skills, management and paralinguistic skills were assessed in different tests, including an independent national test by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters in Australia (NAATI).
The research tested three major hypotheses concerning (1) the feasibility of teaching interpreting by distance mode; (2) how interaction and media affect the effectiveness of teaching; and (3) the development of paralinguistic skills required for face-to-face interpreting. The results of the test suggested that firstly, despite certain constraints, the students trained by distance mode with the methods specified in this research could achieve a level similar or comparable to that of on-campus students in terms of interpreting ability and skills; secondly, different levels of interaction and different types of media utilised directly affected the effectiveness of teaching; and finally, interpreters trained by distance mode could overcome the impact resulting from the lack of face-to-face contact in doing interpreting by distance mode and gain a satisfactory command of paralinguistic skills required for face-to-face interpreting. The research also raised certain issues that require attention in such attempts in future. Other issues that were investigated in the research include the impact of technology, workload and cost effectiveness for teaching interpreting by distance mode.
The research proposed a framework of fundamentals and a two-dimension model for teaching interpreting by distance mode, illustrating the relationship amongst different dimensions of variables as well as different items within each dimension. It generated pedagogical and theoretical implications for teaching interpreting by distance mode in that the level of feasibility and effectiveness of teaching interpreting by distance mode will rise with an increasing degree of interaction in teaching and learning strategies, with the media that can best accommodate such interaction, and with an increasing degree of participants' commitment. The framework and the two-dimension model can serve as guidelines for further attempts in teaching interpreting by distance mode by assisting in the design and conduct of the program as well as in providing solutions to possible pedagogical problems. Finally, applications and limitations of the study as well as areas for further research are highlighted.