Mastery in Mentoring: Lifelong Learning



The 2018 edition of RID's VIEWS includes this submission in ASL, featuring Kelly Decker and Betty Colonomos.

Kelly Decker and Betty Colonomos from VIEWS article

The Integrated Model of Interpreting (IMI) is rooted in Seleskovitch who takes the position that message equivalence can only be achieved by looking beyond form for meaning. IMI evolved by explicating specific cognitive, social, cultural, linguistic, contextual, and psychological factors that impact the interpretation process. The success of this model I believe lies in the pedagogy--based on the theories and work of Lev Vygotsky-- that supports the learning (as opposed to the teaching) of interpretation. If you and our field as a whole believe that the interpretation task involves a myriad of decisions involving problem-solving strategies, personal reflection, insight, and a robust bicultural/multicultural perspective of the world are necessary, then a shift in our educational practices would be in order.

The IMI, which up until recently was called the Colonomos Model, has been "taught" in Interpreter Preparation Programs and other formats for many years, does not appear to be learned or applied to the degree necessary for it to result in quality interpretations. This supports the position that teaching the model in traditional academic contexts alone does not result in shifting interpreters' understanding and approach to the task. There is an unspoken/underlying assumption that offering abstract concepts and factual information leads to development of higher cognition that directly informs students' development as interpreters. The past 30+ years have repeatedly revealed that for most of the current generation of young students, this is a fallacy. It is not reasonable to believe that recent High School graduates have enough experience and practice with these higher cognitive tasks to successfully interpret.

Since 1984, I have been attempting to write a textbook about this model and have struggled with the inability to achieve what I intended. I’ve come to realize that writing a textbook for instructional purposes would have violated my commitment to demonstrating this model in the seminars and retreats I have been offering to interpreters.

Vygotskyan approaches to learning are found in numerous progressive schools throughout the country. See the work of James Wertsch, Michael Cole, and others for more information. I am not aware of any university program that allows for this type of learning environment where activity, dialogue, practice, reflection, and scaffolding are the pathways to discovery and cognitive growth. Publishing a textbook or curriculum following the current academic paradigm would only serve to sabotage the good standing of IMI and the work we are doing.

Many who have participated frequently in seminars and retreats where I’ve modeled this approach have applied it in their work with peers, creating communities of practice engaged in a grassroots movement that changes the way we talk about our work as interpreters. Currently, I am discussing the possibility of collaborating with some of those who use IMI in practice and with colleagues to help teachers in training programs work with this model effectively.

The growth and maturity of our profession relies on a committed effort from each of us as professionals to reflect together on the decisions we face and the strategies we implement in our interpreting work. With such a commitment, the interpreting profession has an opportunity to flourish as each of us strives to advance our learning, understanding, and practice.

Here are some visual aids to stimulate your thinking.


Derived from the work of Danica Seleskovitch [1] the Integrated Model of Interpreting (IMI), previously known as the Colonomos Model, was developed by Betty Colonomos in the early 1980’s. Colonomos was first introduced to the work of Seleskovitch while teaching interpreting at Gallaudet University (then Gallaudet College) in 1979. Through her teachings she realized that Seleskovitch’s work, focused on spoken language interpreters, was also applicable to the work of sign language interpreters. Colonomos recognized the need to expand on Seleskovitch’s work as the differences between spoken language interpreters, who are in large part native bilinguals working into dominant languages, and signed language interpreters was stark. Colonomos’ goal was to frame the process sign language interpreters experience explicitly while outlining the factors that influence the work [2]. The IMI focuses on the cognitive processes and decision making an interpreter experiences while interpreting.

“[IMI] . . . holds as its core the belief that interpreting is a cognitive task comprised of countless decisions that are affected by factors within and outside of the interpreter. The IMI makes possible and encourages the unpacking of these decisions to understand why interpreters say/sign what they do or don’t. The emphasis is on the process, the “why” of what happened, rather than the “what.” IMI practitioners understand that the key to improving interpreting skills is examining decisions and decision-making. [3]”

While the model does take into account the external factors (i.e. environment, context, and setting specific norms) that influence the internal decision making within the interpreting process, the crux of the model focuses on the intangible and most challenging portion of the interpreting task:. The interpreters mind.

IMI practitioners have the understanding that the product of their work is based on the decisions made via their process. When striving for message equivalence each interpreter’s process is fundamentally the same. The IMI gives us the tools and clarity to parse out the sequence of such decisions, why they are decision points in the interpreting process and ways to have shared language about the work we do.

Since the inception of IMI, the model has been revised and refined by Colonomos via her experience teaching the model to thousands of interpreters across the country. Colonomos’ pedagogy of the inner workings of IMI are based on the philosophy and theories of learning from Lev Vygotsky [4].

The primary ways of exposure to the model is via a series of trainings developed by Colonomos, Foundations of Interpreting [7]. This series is comprised of eight modules where participants are first introduced to the model by ways of text analyses and identifying patterns in the product (the interpretation) to infer process. From this introduction participants continue to delve deeper into the understanding of the model, their decisions and ways in which we, as interpreters, talk and identify the why behind the what. The discussion and discovery amongst participants is key to the Vygotskian idea of Self-Regulation (independent problem solving). We are often able to infer process (executive functioning) via discussions of tangible product (interpretations).

These participant driven dialogues, once framed and modeled by Colonomos throughout the Foundations modules, are critical to the learner’s understanding and future application of the IMI.

“The approach used is grounded in Lev S. Vygotsky’s theories about learning that does not identify interpreters by their ‘level of skill’, but by the degree of cognitive control of specific tasks. Thus, each person (student, novice, certified, and highly competent) may be self-regulated in some cognitive tasks and be object-regulated in others. [2]”

“Vygotsky views learning from a socio-cultural context where the learner is embedded and engaged with others. The learner moves through stages of not knowing how to solve a problem on their own, to interaction with another in a reflective dialogue, and, finally, to independent problem solving [3].”

A full explanation of the philosophies from Vygotsky and the pedagogy used by Colonomos are limited due to the confines of this writing. If interested, we recommend that you further your studies of this learning based theory via the resources we have cited here and by attending Foundations.

Works Cited

[1] Seleskovitch, D (1978). Interpreting for International Conferences. Penn and Booth, Washington, DC

[2] Colonomos, B. (2016) The Integrated Model of Interpreting: Theory and Methodology (In preparation), Unpublished manuscript.

[3] Colonomos, B., & Moccia, L. (2013). Process Mediation as Mentoring. Mentorship in Sign Language Interpreting (pp. 85-93). Alexandria, VA: RID.

[4] L. S. Vygotsky (Author), Michael Cole (Editor), Vera John-Steiner (Editor), Sylvia Scribner (Editor), Ellen Souberman (Editor). (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press; 14th edition

[7] Colonomos, B. “Foundations of Interpreting.” 2016. Web. 27 November 2016.

Deaf Foundations Fund

The Deaf Foundations of Interpreting Seminar Series is offered for Deaf Interpreters. This specialized series is for Deaf Interpreters only.

Donations from the larger interpreting community and elsewhere help to defray the cost of providing these seminars to our Deaf Interpreter colleagues.

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Foundations of Interpreting

The Foundations of Interpreting Seminar Series provides insights into The Integrated Model of Interpreting and the processes we engage in while interpreting. More information on the series as well as a schedule of current seminars being offered: click here.

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Foundations: Going Further

If you've attended Foundations I & II in recent years and would like to participate in further exploration of what you learned there, Foundations: Going Further may be just what you need during our time of social distancing. For more info about this online series, click here.