The training aims to have a positive effect on interpreters' voices, both in the short and long term. These improvements in turn benefit their audiences.
The exercises and techniques taught by Joseph Clark and Noah Pikes enable interpreters to use their voices correctly, and avoid such problems as hoarseness and loss of voice. There is also considerable improvement in overall voice quality. In the international IACI survey about interpreters, the majority of conference delegates said that various aspects of voice use were the most irritating thing about interpreters.
As the medium carries the message, the primary objective of the training is to help interpreters use their voices in ways that do not disturb, but engage and hold the listeners' attention. They learn to maintain a dynamic balance between extremes of volume, pitch, pace and quality of speech, without forced articulation. In addition, the vocal health acquired stands interpreters in good stead throughout their careers, as they report far fewer physical and vocal problems. All this is done in a group work setting, and through its application during individual work in the booth.
Work on Body Posture
Interpreters have to remain seated to do their job. This sitting position, as well as the restricted movement required by the use of the microphone, give rise to multiple problems. The training helps interpreters, while seated, to maintain the full breathing capacity needed to freely and adequately use their voice. A hunched over posture, tensely raised shoulders and restricted breathing can lead to tiredness. This increases the likelihood of errors, a lower level of clarity and makes it more difficult for delegates to follow the interpretation.
Our first step in the training therefore, is to introduce participants to a number of easily practised and remembered de-tensing exercises. They are shown correct posture and together we observe positive effects on the body, including decreasing stress levels.
Increased Breath Capacity
Many people suffer from diminished breath capacity for all kinds of reasons. Interpreters often have to use their voice under great pressure. Lack of breath can lead to hoarseness, temporary loss of voice and decreased expressiveness. These symptoms will worsen over time unless correct breathing techniques are acquired. Breathing exercises are an important element of the training.
Overall Vocal control; Volume, Timbre, Pitch, Tempo and Articulation
The greater access interpreters have to their own vocal capacities, the more appropriately and effectively they will be able to control and use their voices in the often varied nature of their work. Interpreters need to be able to speak quietly, loudly and calmly; be able to increase or decrease the pace of delivery; vary the number and length of pauses to communicate the message, information and other content to listeners in as clear and effective a way as possible.
Working in Groups and Individual Attention
The training is done in groups of a maximum of eight participants. As it is difficult to hear one's own voice objectively, positive peer feedback, as well as from the trainer, is a vital way of encouraging participants to continue working by themselves after classes. Many participants in the SCIC, NATO and AIIC workshops initially perceived their own changed use of voice as ‘unnatural’. Yet peer responses helped convince them that their new, adapted use of voice was better than how they had used it before. In our experience there is an almost 100% agreement from colleagues present when someone's voice production improves.
Before and After the Training
Before the start of the training individual questionnaires are sent to participants asking about their voice and voice use. A major aim of the training is to enable participants to practise independently after the training days. Therefore maximum individual instruction is given so that participants know what aspects they need to work on, and how. This is influenced by; 1. Individual questionnaires prior to the training days. 2. Specific and individual exercises, advice and help is given, based on our observations of each participant’s needs and responses at the end of the training days. 3. We ask the participants to report all progress, remaining difficulties or needs, to which we will again respond with further advice.
Joseph Clark describes the foundations of good communication through his “Voice Pyramid” metaphor:
Noah Pikes describes and demonstrates the dynamics of the four main vocal characteristics of a good speaking voice, with special attention to timbre: