The roles of working memory, language proficiency, and training in simultaneous interpretation performance: evidence from Chinese-English bilinguals
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Simultaneous interpretation is a cognitively demanding task involving concurrent listening and speaking in two languages. Successful performance in this task likely relies on a good working memory, which reflects a person?s ability to process and store information simultaneously. The present study used the theoretical construct of working memory to investigate the task of simultaneous interpretation. Twenty student interpreters at two different levels of training in interpreting and sixteen bilinguals with no training in interpreting, all of whom spoke Chinese as a first language and English as a second language, participated in this study. They were compared on their performance for two measures of working memory ? reading span and digit span ? and on a simultaneous interpretation task. In addition, a translation judgment task and proficiency self-evaluation measures were administered to explore if language proficiency mediates working memory in participants? L1 (native language) and L2 (second language). This study also examined the relation between working memory and performance in simultaneous interpretation. Results showed that the student interpreters performed better than bilinguals on simultaneous interpretation. Advanced-level student interpreters also outperformed bilinguals on all language versions of the memory span tasks, though first-year student interpreters did not show higher working memory than the bilinguals. Further, performance in simultaneous interpretation was related to working memory in both L1 and L2. Based on the study?s findings, two years of training in interpreting seemed to have a positive effect on improving working memory, whereas one year of training in interpreting did not help to increase working memory. On the other hand, higher language proficiency did not result in high working memory but contributed to better performance in simultaneous interpretation. Working memory, it is concluded, is important but language proficiency in L1 and L2 assumes a more critical role in simultaneous interpretation performance.