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Deliberate practice: The unicorn of interpreting studies
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2285-6729
2018 (English)In: Translation – Didaktik – Kompetenz / [ed] Barbara Ahrens, Silvia Hansen-Schirra, Monika Krein-Kühle, Michael Schreiber, Ursula Wienen, Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2018, p. 131-144Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Deliberate practice, as described in expertise theory of cognitive psychology, stems, at least in part, from Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer’s seminal 1993 study of violin students from the Music Academy of West Berlin. In their article, Ericsson et al. take issue with the belief that truly exceptional performers are unique because they possess different types of innate giftedness. They say such reasoning is oversimplified and suggest that a truly scientific account of such skills would have to describe the development leading up to exceptional performance, as well as the “genetic and acquired characteristics that mediate it” (1993: 363, italics added). Furthermore, they argue that a scientific mapping of exceptional performance must identify critical differences between exceptional and ordinary performers. And, finally, they suggest that when researchers argue that there are genetic differences, those differences must be proven to be genetically heritable as being hereditary. Because it would be difficult for researchers to provide this evidence, Ericsson et al. recommend researchers investigate environmental factors that could “selectively promote and facilitate the achievement of such performance” instead (1993: 363). Based on their research, Ericsson et al. suggest one crucial environmental factor is deliberate practice.

Of course, the issue of deliberate practice is not without controversy. One of the main counterarguments to Ericsson et al.’s proposal is that even if practice is important, researchers cannot rule out the contribution of ability factors. Some have suggested it is unfair to less able individuals to claim that hard work is enough to achieve excellence (Detterman 2014). Furthermore, several studies have shown that deliberate practice is a weak explanation of the variance in performance in many areas (Macnamara, Hambrick and Oswald 2014; Menz and Hambrick, 2010). Ericsson counters these studies by stating that the structure of expert performance is so unique it “cannot be extrapolated from the performance–ability relations observed in the general adult population” (Ericsson 2014: 81).

Deliberate practice in interpreting poses another challenge for the researcher because the few studies done on the construct in this field have failed to show the mere occurrence (let alone the effect) of deliberate practice in interpreting (Tiselius 2013; Albl-Mikasa 2013). It is possible that interpreting researchers cannot find an effect for deliberate practice because they have incorrectly defined the construct. Alternatively, deliberate practice in interpreting may be a unicorn: a noble creature with the power to redeem novice interpreters be they only pure, which unfortunately exists only in fairy tales. With only two studies in the field, we do not have sufficient evidence to decide whether deliberate practice is an unproven fact or only a fiction.

This article describes the theoretical foundations of deliberate practice, differences between practice and deliberate practice, and how the construct has been studied in the fields of cognitive psychology broadly and interpreting specifically. It will also investigate criticisms of deliberate practice in the field.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2018. p. 131-144
Keywords [en]
interpreting, deliberate practice, expertise
Keywords [sv]
tolkning, medveten övning, expertkunnande
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
Translation Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-166956ISBN: 978-3-7329-0334-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-166956DiVA, id: diva2:1295074
Available from: 2019-03-10 Created: 2019-03-10 Last updated: 2019-03-14Bibliographically approved

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