As I recently wrote about, I recently marked the one-year anniversary of graduating from the Glendon College Master of Conference Interpreting program. Personally, I find that conference interpreting is a lot like playing a musical instrument: there’s always more to learn, and consistent practice and feedback is really, really important. To that end, I participated in the August 15-19, 2022 of the CoLab conference interpreting intensive, held at…Glendon College in Toronto, Canada! This was a uniquely COVID-era experience, because the workshop was held at the school I graduated from but had never been to, and four of the other participants were people I attended the Glendon program with, but had never met in person. This edition of CoLab was coordinated by Laura Holcomb and Lauren Michaels, with Gillian Misener on logistics, and they were all fantastic!
Executive summary: I really enjoyed CoLab, and would highly recommend it to other conference interpreters at all levels. It was well organized, well run, included a ton of interpreting practice and other activities, and it’s one of the rare opportunities to attend a week-long conference interpreting workshop in North America. CoLab is a very supportive environment in which to practice, and it’s very affordably priced. CoLab is based on peer feedback. If you’re looking for feedback from expert instructors rather than peers (for example, to prepare for a high-level certification exam), you might want to look at the Cambridge Conference Interpreting Course (which I attended in 2020), but I think CoLab is an excellent opportunity for almost any conference interpreter.
The logistics of CoLab
As mentioned above, this edition of CoLab was held in person, in the interpreting lab at Glendon College (the bilingual campus of York University, in Toronto, Canada). The Glendon campus is beautiful, and the interpreting lab is very well-equipped with really nice interpreting booths and a “soft console” Zoom-based system, the hard console system having died from lack of use during the pandemic.
The registration fee for CoLab is very inexpensive, less than US $500 for the whole week. Participants secure their own housing and figure out most of their own meals (Glendon has a completely decent cafeteria for lunch, and Toronto doesn’t lack for food options for dinner). I shared an AirBnB with two classmates from the Glendon MCI program; we were about a 30 minute walk from Glendon, so we typically had breakfast at our apartment (and I hit the nearby Tim Horton’s to caffeinate!), then walked together up to the campus.
I found a reasonably priced flight into Toronto, and the city is easy to navigate. There’s a train to the city center from the main airport (Pearson) and Ubers/Lyfts/cabs are also plentiful.
What happens at CoLab?
CoLab uses a peer feedback model; there aren’t “instructors” per se, which is a big difference from the Cambridge Conference Interpreting Course. This session of CoLab had about 20 interpreters participating; I’d say most were mid-career interpreters, with a few new/aspiring interpreters and a few people who’ve been at it for many decades. It was a very dynamic group, and many people in the group were French A or B, so I had a lot of people to choose from as listeners and listenees.
Everyone at CoLab signs up in advance to give a 20-minute simultaneous speech, and you can also sign up to give a five to seven minute consecutive speech, but the consec speech is optional. All of the speeches are live. The topics for the simul speeches ranged from SCUBA diving, to molecular biology, to neurodiversity, to recycling, and everything in between. I gave a consec speech on the environmental benefits of being a vegetarian, and a simul speech on mountaineering and the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. I had fun with both of them!
For each round of two speeches, you sign up to interpret one and give feedback to someone else on the other. Most days have either three or four rounds of speeches (six or eight speeches total), so it’s a lot of interpreting and feedbacking. After each round, there’s 30 minutes for peer feedback, then a break, or lunch, or it’s the end of the day.
CoLab also includes some non-interpreting activities like CoLab Conversations, a time block at the end of the day where we went to an off-site coffee shop and had roundtable discussions about various topics (finding clients, the role of into-B interpreting, etc.); there was also a trampoline jumping night (it sounded fun, but I’m more of a yoga girl and didn’t attend) followed by a group dinner (which I did attend: lots of fun and great food!). There are also a few “interlude” activities such as the B-booster exercise, where you have one minute to give an impromptu speech to the group on a specific topic: Where were you when the COVID lockdown started? What’s the best vacation you ever took? What’s the most memorable date you ever went on? This activity was a big hit and forced all of us to practice speaking off the cuff in our B language. There’s also some flexibility with the activities: for example, one of my Glendon MCI buddies and I decided to interpret one of the consecutive speeches without notes, which was a lot of fun!
How did it go?
To sum up, it was great, and I really enjoyed it. The feedback I received on my into-French and into-English interpreting was very helpful, as was the opportunity to interpret a lot of speeches on topics I don’t usually work with. In total, we had the opportunity to interpret almost 20 speeches (simul and consec). I also find that listening to other people’s interpreting is hugely instructive for me, and I like giving feedback. So, I really enjoyed the CoLab peer support model. It was also amazing to have the opportunity to go to Toronto and experience in 3D what I experienced on Zoom for a year. I give this CoLab experience two thumbs up, and I would definitely attend again.
A few caveats (I already gave Laura and Lauren this feedback on the participant survey, so I’m not talking behind their backs!):
- If you’re looking to improve the overall quality of your interpreting and break out of your comfort zone, you’ll love the CoLab peer feedback model. But if you have a very specific goal, particularly at a high level (you want to pass the UN Language Competitive Exam, you want to upgrade a C language to a B language, etc.), you want to think about whether peer feedback is going to get the job done, or whether you might want to do the Cambridge Course, where most of the feedback is from expert instructors who are senior-level interpreters or interpreter trainers.
- CoLab involves a lot of interpreting time, and there’s not really an option not to participate, because if you skip a speech, someone doesn’t get feedback. Personally, especially given the enthusiasm with which our group participated in the CoLab Conversations, I would cut one round of interpreting from each day and have an alternative activity in its place. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to do so much interpreting, and the days when we interpreted four speeches and gave feedback on four speeches felt like a lot!
- If you do a less common language, you might want to do some recruitment before you sign up for CoLab. Probably half of the people in the group had French in their combination, so I was never at a loss for someone to listen to, or to listen to me. But if you do a less common language, you might want to sign up with a couple of colleagues so that you have more than one person to get feedback from.
Logistical tips, if you go
Toronto is really a pretty easy city to navigate, even if you’ve never been there. Many people from within Canada took the train, and I was easily able to find a nonstop flight from Denver to Pearson airport. The area around Glendon is a pretty upscale residential neighborhood, so look for lodging as soon as you book your CoLab spot, particularly if you’d like to find a place within walking distance. Two colleagues and I were able to find a nice, two-bedroom AirBnB at a reasonable cost, but we booked fairly early. Be warned that the walk down Bayview Avenue (the main drag to the Glendon campus) has a good sidewalk, but it’s a pretty busy road, and there aren’t a lot of alternatives unless you allow a lot of extra time.
I’m a fan of public transportation and wanted to take the train from Pearson airport into the city, then I took a cab to the AirBnB from Union Station. However, in the end, this didn’t save a ton of money and an Uber all the way to the airport for my return flight was only around CAD $40.
I found the Glendon cafeteria totally adequate for lunch and snacks (I’m a vegetarian and they had plenty of veg options). Just be aware that there are not really any restaurants within close walking distance of the campus, so your choices are the Glendon cafeteria or bringing your own lunch, unless you have a car.
A random thing, but specific to this conference: the lined, top-bound steno pads that many interpreters use for consecutive note-taking are not widely available in Canada. Definitely bring your own if you’re coming from a country where they’re sold!
Along those same lines, in the current setup of the Glendon lab, you must use a USB headset, not a headset with an audio jack. It’s possible to buy a USB adapter for an audio jack plug, but make sure you do that before you head to Toronto.
Huge thanks to the CoLab organizers and participants for such a great week!
Corinne McKay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Training for Translators, and has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. She holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College, is an ATA-certified French to English translator, and is Colorado court-certified for French interpreting. If you enjoy her posts, consider joining the Training for Translators mailing list!