Specialists in oral translation services

Monday, November 3, 2014

Practice makes perfect... but where do I find the speeches?

by Michelle Hof, 

The other day, a colleague mentioned to me that she wanted to practice her interpreting and asked me if I could recommend any good speech websites. After sharing with her my current favourites, it occurred to me that there might be other professional interpreters out there with the same question. After all, many of us are looking to add a new language, upgrade to a retour, or just keep our skills fresh in periods of less work (and have realized that the
technique of conducting random searches on YouTube in the hopes of stumbling upon a good speech has its limitations). That’s why I’ve decided to share some of my favourite speech resources with you today. Many readers will already be familiar with those in the first two categories, but I’m thinking that those in the last group will be new to some – and I hope that you’ll find them as useful for your practice as I do.

1. Speech banks created by and for interpreters

In this first category, we have of course the SCIC’s Speech Repository. Almost everyone has at least heard of it, and many EU-accredited interpreters planning to expand their language combination start here. But did you know that this repository, which used to be password-protected and so available only to accredited interpreters and students of approved schools, was recently made freely available to the public? The online version does not (yet?) have all
the speeches that the private version does, but it’s sure to be a big hit all the same.

The second on this list has to be Speechpool. This speech-sharing site started by fellow trainer and EU interpreter Sophie Llewelyn-Smith was launched last year and is growing by the day. Again, many interpreters have already at least heard of Speechpool, if not actually visited the site to see what it has to offer. If you haven’t yet joined this speech-sharing community,
I highly recommend you do. It’s not only filled with great practice material of all levels and in various languages produced by interpreting students, recent graduates and more experienced professionals, but Sophie also sends out a weekly newsletter jam-packed with useful tips for

2. Recordings of proceedings at international institutions

In this second category, we have portals such as the UN’s Web TV, the European Parliament’s EP Live and the European Commission’s Conference Webcast Portal. These are a great place to go to if you are wanting to practice from multilingual proceedings, and offer the added benefit that you can compare your own performance against the interpreter’s if you like, since
they allow you to switch between booths. The Commission’s Webcast Portal, which holds the recordings of all the webstreamed events organized by its various Directorates-General, includes the original Powerpoint presentations with the recordings, which you can use to prepare, thus converting your practice session into a very life-like “mock conference” situation.

3. Curated speech databases 

It’s great to have access to resources such as those I’ve listed above - both those created by colleagues who know what practice material is meant to sound like and those that allow us to mimic real-life conference contexts. But sometimes, what we really want is a reliable source of real speeches, given by real world leaders in real contexts, organized in an easily searchable database, and preferably with audio/video links and a transcript attached. That’s surely not oo much to ask...

Well, I’m pleased to say that there are plenty of such sites out there. The interesting thing to note here is that these speech databases are not intended as a resource for interpreters but have been created with other audiences in mind: journalists, political scientists or historians, for instance. But hey, nothing’s stopping us from repurposing them to meet our needs! Here are my current favourites in this category.

The first website has the unfortunate name of BeersandPolitics.com (the extra “s” bothers me but it was created by non-native speakers of English so I guess I’ll forgive them, since it’s such a great site). The site’s speech resource page holds transcripts of seminal speeches given in history and goes back to 1766 (yes, you read that right). The more recent speeches include (where available) YouTube links to the video where you can watch the speech being delivered
by the world leader in question. The database includes speeches in English, French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian and the best part is that it is updated almost weekly – so you always have something directly related to current affairs to practice with.

The second such speech database is a more recent discovery, and so I haven’t had time to fully explore it, but it certainly looks promising. It’s called History & Politics Out Loud and it provides a curated collection of speeches given by world leaders, each with a full transcript and an audio track of the original speech. The added value I see to this site is that it offers biographies
of each leader, as well as a brief explanation of the historical context in which each speech was given, allowing you to get into the correct mindframe before starting your practice session. While we’re on the topic of speech databases, I wasn’t going to mention TED talks, since everybody and their dog has already heard of them (and probably tried their hand at interpreting from them). However, a fellow trainer recently put me onto a useful feature hat the TED page offers that makes the speeches an interesting resource for certain types of interpreting practice. I’m referring to the nifty interactive transcription feature that you can activate for each TED talk, allowing you to follow along with the speaker, with each phrase in the transcript highlighted as it is said. The trainer told me that she uses this feature for sight translation and chunking exercises in class.

So there you have it, a brief list of my favourite sources of speech material for practicing interpreting. As you can see, each source is slightly different, and can be used in different ways to meet different practice objectives. If this short list has left you wanting more, why not check out the speech wiki that has been set up on interpreting.info? Here, colleagues share their favourite speech websites in a range of languages. I hope that you find these resources useful – and can use them to help you meet your own interpreting practice goals.