Volume 15, No. 3 
July 2011

  Riccardo Moratto


Front Page

  Translation Journal

The Xiada model for Interpreter Training

by Riccardo Moratto


ith no pretense to exhaustivity, this brief article aims at introducing a model which is quite renowned in China, namely the Xiada model for interpreter training, and which may be combined with the already existing models in the Western world by interpreting trainees and trainers alike.


Flexibility, quick reflexes and responsiveness. These are the three ultimate characteristics of a good interpreter.
Trainee interpreters require a broad training approach which includes all the elements involved in the task. Since interpreting is a multi-task and complex activity (Pöchhacker 2004), several authors have felt the need to develop models which reflect the reality of interpreting and can serve as a theoretical underpinning to a course in interpreting skills. The best-known model is Gile's effort model (Gile 1985; 1988; 1997; 1999). Daniel Gile (1992; 1995) emphasizes the difficulties and efforts involved in interpreting tasks and strategies needed to overcome them, observing that many failures occur in the absence of any visible difficulty. He then proposes his Effort Models for interpreting, according to which "the Effort Models are designed to help them [interpreters] understand these difficulties [of interpreting] and select appropriate strategies and tactics. They are based on the concept of Processing Capacity and on the fact that some mental operations in interpreting require much Processing Capacity." (1992:191). Without delving any further into the study of Gile's Effort Model, which the reader may find in the relevant literature, in this brief article I will present another model, quite renowned in Asia, namely the Xiada (Xiada stands for Xiàmén dàxué, which in Chinese means Xiamen university) model for Interpreter Training.

The Xiada model for Interpreter Training

The Xiada model for Interpreter Training follows a non-linear approach. Its main aim is to show that interpreting requires comprehension of the source language (SL) and reconstruction of the message in the target language (TL). This is made possible by an analysis of the discourse and cultural factors involved in the scenario. The model therefore shows the interaction of analyses of both the SL and the TL, together with bringing to the fore the skills and techniques required of an interpreter, which combined together lead to successful interpreting.

These factors are represented in the following diagram:

This model was first proposed in Lin & Lei (2006). The authors provide the key to the model itself and illustrate how each component is essential in training future interpreters. Hereafter, I will report the explanation of this model as illustrated in Lin & Lei (2006).

C (SL+K) represents the comprehension (C) of the SL which is facilitated by extra-linguistic or encyclopedic knowledge (K). That circle lies behind the others because the SL message initiates the whole interpreting act. The message moves in the direction of the horizontal arrow. Comprehension is the first and most important step towards a correct interpretation. Trainee interpreters should be aware of what comprehension entails. Language honing and enhancement is a life-long commitment. Beginners should dedicate a considerable amount of time and attention to developing their linguistic systems. Along with enhancing their language knowledge, students should also deepen their cultural awareness and be interested, from the very begininning, in a wide range of topics from political speeches to medicine conferences. Indeed, "the topics and subject matter covered by professional interpreters are both wide ranging in variety and frequently detailed in content. It is, therefore, the job of those training new interpreters to expose them to a wide range of subject matters so as to enable them to embark on a programme of lifelong accumulation of knowledge" (Lin & Lei 2006: 5)

R (TL+K) represents reformulation (R) in the TL which is also informed by extra-linguistic or encyclopedic knowledge (K). The circle overlies the SL circle because the TL message must follow from the SL message. Reformulation may be regarded as the second step towards interpretation and also as the ultimate achievement. It must be swift if not immediate especially in the simultaneous mode. Furthermore, the more accurate the rendering, clear the tone, appropriate the pace, style and volume, pleasant the voice, the more successful the reformulation will turn out to be.

A (D+CC) represents the analysis (A) which the interpreter uses both in the comprehension and in the reconstruction of the message. The analysis has two main components, discourse analysis (D) and the cross-cultural understanding (CC). The two downward arrows show that A (D+CC) applies to both the other circles. Every trainee interpreter knows that meaning is more important than words per se (Danica Seleskovitch's «théorie interprétative de la traduction» (or «théorie du sens»)). In primis, students learn that their interpretation must match the original message as for vocabulary, register and genre and perhaps also with regard to tone and emotion. In time, trainee interpreters understand that effective communication occurs at the level of discourse, above the level of the phrase and sentences. Hence, the analysis ought to include cross-cultural references as well.

S represents the skills and techniques which interpreters resort to when performing their tasks in a professional manner. The triangle is superimposed on all three circles because the special skills involved differentiate what an interpreter achieves from other types of bi-lingual activity. Some of the most important skills in simultaneous interpreting are multi-tasking, linearity, anticipation and information retention, sight interpreting, simultaneous interpreting with PowerPoint slides and coping tactics.

Prerequisites to become a qualified interpreter

Interpreting is a highly demanding linguistic activity from a cognitive and sociolinguistic point of view, an arduous and challenging task in which clients have high expectations of interpreters. To become a fully qualified interpreter and provide the client with an efficient service and have positive feedback, the degree of proficiency and seriousness along with the deontological professionalism of the interpreter must be impeccable. Anyone aspiring to become a professional interpreter must undergo an intense period of training and, according to Lin & Lei (2006), ought to have the following seven prerequisites:

  1. Proficiency in (at least) two languages. Any aspiring interpreter should have a solid competence in both (all of) his working languages. For instance, a Chinese-Italian interpreter should perfectly master both languages, be able to grasp all the different linguistic nuances, have an acute linguistic sensitivity and have a quick wording and phrasing system, let alone a wide vocabulary representing a vast array of semantic possibilities to choose from during the output.
  2. Wide knowledge, A professional, highly qualified interpreter can not merely rely on his linguistic competence; otherwise every bilingual could automatically be considered an interpreter, which is not the case. Interpreters should have an extensive encyclopedic knowledge, a keen interest in current affairs and a general interest in topics ranging from political affairs to scientific discoveries, constitutional matters, habits and customs of peoples, cosmology, cosmogony, astrology, geography, history and so forth. In short, an interpreter should know a little bit about everything without being an expert in any particular field (unless one decides to specialize in a given field). Interpreters always study throughout their whole career and have an intrinsic passion for learning and discovering new things, thus pursuing a life-long learning commitment. They can find new things to learn everywhere and at all times, constantly increasing their knowledge. For an efficient communication an interpreter should also be a cross-cultural expert.
  3. Proficient mastery of interpreting techniques. This is the essential key factor to any successful interpreter, because linguistic competence with vast knowledge alone is not enough, otherwise any highly-educated bilingual could end up becoming an interpreter.
  4. Outstanding memory. Memory is another key factor in interpreting. During a conference or any other communicative event characterized by time constraints, interpreters de facto have no time to look words up in a dictionary. Hence, the stronger the memory, the more expressions will the interpreter be able to retrieve. Expressions include technical vocabulary, chéngyŭ (four-character classical Chinese proverbs or sayings), literary quotations and acronyms. Memory is an essential element for consecutive interpreting but also for simultaneous especially if the interpreter has a long ear-voice span (also known as décalage).
  5. Quick learner and user of knowledge. An interpreter may have to accept tasks which require a highly technical vocabulary to be successful at. Before a conference or any other communicative event, any interpreter regardless of how good or qualified s/he might be should always thoroughly study the topic of the event to make sure that the content of the speaker's message will be fully and appropriately conveyed. For the service to be successful, interpreters should use as efficiently as possible the time they spend in preparing the event and should also have the ability to retrieve previously memorized information si opus sit during the interpreting task.
  6. Good physical and psychological conditions. Interpreting is an arduous and physically exhausting task, especially in the simultaneous mode. It puts quite a strain on brain cognitive skills. An interpreter must enjoy good physical health to endure long hours of working and traveling continuously from one place to another. The interpreter's psyche should also be very solid to put up with all the different types of pressure: performance anxiety, stage fright, nervousness and so forth. Interpreters should not be affected by any of these feelings in order to preserve a good quality service. Finally,
  7. Flexibility, quick reflexes and responsiveness. These are the three ultimate characteristics of a good interpreter. Interpreters are like talking chameleons, they should be able to adapt to every different situation, flexible enough to understand all types of accents and quick enough to correct any faulty statement uttered by the speaker or, in times of particular distress, by interpreters themselves.


This brief article attempted to present the reader with a model for interpreter training, i.e. the Xiada model. This short introduction has by no means any pretense to exhaustivity, it merely aims at introducing a model for interpreter training (as illustrated by Lin & Lei 2006) which is quite renowned in Asia and which could possibly be combined to or integrated with the already existing models in the Western world, to possibly generate a more complete picture of the characteristics or prerequisites required for becoming or performing the task of an interpreter.


Gile, Daniel. (1985). "Le modèle d'efforts et d'équilibre d'interprétation en interprétation simultanée", Meta, Vol. 30, Num. 1, pp. 44-8.

Gile, Daniel. (1988). "Le partage de l'attention et le 'modèle d'effort' en interprétation simultanée", The lnterpreters' Newsletter, Trieste, Università degli studi di Trieste, Num. 1, pp. 4-22.

Gile, Daniel. (1992)  "Predictable Sentence Endings in Japanese and Conference Interpretation".   The Interpreters' Newsletter, Special Issue N.1 12-23  

Gile, Daniel. (1995). "Fidelity assessment in consecutive interpretation: an experiment."   Target 7: 1. 151-164  

Gile, Daniel. (1997). "Conference interpreting as a cognitive management problem". In J. H. Danks, G.M. Shreve, S.B. Fountain, & M. K. McBeath (Eds.), Cognitive processes in translation and interpreting (pp. 196-214). London: Sage Publications.

Gile, Daniel. (1999). "Testing the Effort Models' tightrope hypothesis in simultaneous interpreting - A contribution". Journal of Linguistics, 23, 153-172.

Lin, Yuru and Lei, Tianfang. (2006). Interpreting coursebook. Shanghai Foreign Language University Press.

Pöchhacker, Franz. (2004). Introducing interpreting studies. New York: Routledge.