Teaching interpreting skills to second language learners

By Dr Yavar Dehghani 

Photo of Dr Yavar Dehghani, language manager, author, linguist, and a lecturer in Iranian languagesInterpreting is an important and in some situations, a vital language skill, which is hardly taught along with the other four macro skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) in the mainstream second language teaching. This skill which is used mostly for job related tasks, needs a relatively high proficiency in the second language, and thus it is usually taught in an intermediate or preferably in a higher and advanced level. 

One of the unique schools where the students learn interpreting as a part of their language course, is the Defence Force School of Language (DFSL), located in Melbourne. In DFSL, interpreting is taught in intensive language courses along with other macro skills where the language learners will be able to perform interpreting tasks effectively, especially in a war zone situation.

Challenges in teaching interpreting to students

As we know, there has been a lot of work on bilingualism. Interpretation goes one step beyond that because the two languages are active simultaneously. There is a perception and production at the same time. So the brain regions involved go to an extremely high level, beyond language. Some of the challenges that the interpreting students face are:

  • Remembering words and phrases: The student has difficulty in remembering words and phrases in the second language while interpreting, as there is not enough time to process and think.
  • Short memory issues: The student go blank in the middle of interpreting and cannot recall the segment being told in the first or second langauge.
  • Self-correction: The student keeps correcting themselves.
  • Hesitations: sometimes, there are a lot of hesitation, as the brain needs time to process and translate.
  • Mixing the direction: Sometimes, the student mixes the direction of interpreting and although they hear a segment in the first language, they still interpret it in the first language and vice versa.
  • Using English words: The students use English word frequently during interpreting into the second language because of the lack of required words and phrases or failure in recalling the equivalent.

Learning strategies

  • Efficient note-taking is one of the most important skills the students have to learn. It helps them with the short memory problems.
  • More time is given for interpreting into the second language.
  • Students are encouraged to use circumlocutions during interpreting.
  • The students are allowed to use English words at the beginning of the courses
  • Pause and repetitions are allowed to give the students time to think and recall.

Main contexts of use

  • The main contexts in which the Australian Defence Force is likely to require its linguists to use their interpreting proficiency are:
  • liaison during combined exercises;
  • liaison during overseas deployments, disaster relief, peacekeeping, and ship visits;
  • assisting at unit briefings to foreign visitors;
  • escorting foreign visitors; and
  • instruction of foreign personnel.

Cultural appropriateness of language used

While minor cultural inappropriateness would not block conveying of the meaning, it could negate or undermine a linguist’s effectiveness in situations. Thus, the cultural appropriateness of the language used is also taught in interpreting, especially at higher levels.


As most of the jobs require interpreting rather than pure listening, reading, writing or speaking, the students who learn interpreting skill as part of their language course, are more confident in using their language.

Dr Yavar Dehghani, language manager, author, linguist, and lecturer in Iranian languagesAuthor BiographyDr  Dehghani is a language manager, author, linguist and lecturer in Iranian languages including Persian (Farsi & Dari), Pashto, and Turkic languages including Azari and Turkish. 

He is currently Head of European & Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese & Korean languages in the Defence School of Languages in Melbourne and has held NAATI translating and interpreting credentials since 2002.

Dr  Dehghani has published several books on grammar, and phrasebooks and dictionaries on Persian and Turkic languages, and presented several papers on Australian international conferences on these languages. Website: www.yadehghani.com


Published: 09/12/2018