Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

Working Memory Performance of Expert and Novice Interpreters

Migyong Lee1,
1Kyung Hee University
Corresponding Author : Migyong Lee, English Department Kyung Hee University, 1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-ku Seoul, Korea 130-701. Phone: 822-961-0224; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jan , 2011; Revised: Feb , 2011; Accepted: Feb , 2011

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


As in any field of specialization, simultaneous interpreting requires expertise which distinguishes the conference interpreters from other bilinguals. Involved in coordination and regulation of ongoing processing of information, working memory may be one of the factors that constitute the expertise of conference interpreters. The aim of this study is to investigate the working memory performance of interpreters and the effect of their working memory performance on the capacity to mediate communication under time constraints. Under such an assumption, the working memory spans of two groups of conference interpreters – seven interpreters in the Experienced Group with more than ten years of working experience and sixteen interpreters in the Novice Group with less than three years of experience – were measured. In addition, a survey was conducted to assess the topic knowledge of the two groups of interpreters. English into Korean simultaneous interpreting experiment was carried out to investigate the implications of working memory performance on the interpreters' ability to transfer information from the source language to the target language. The interpreters' ability to transfer information was measured in terms of their ability to transfer meaning segments referred to as Idea Units and Essential Idea Units in the texts. The results of the experiment showed that the Experienced Group was able to transfer a higher percentage of both Idea Units and Essential Idea Units than the Novice Group. There was higher correlations between the Novice Group of interpreters’ working memory performance and their ability to transfer information while higher correlations was seen between topic knowledge and ability to transfer information among the Experienced Group of interpreters.

Keywords: working memory performance; expertise; simultaneous interpreting; information processing



Barik, H.C. 1975. Simultaneous Interpretation: Qualitative and Linguistic Data. Language and Speech 18, 69-93.


Carpenter, P.A., et al. 1994. Working Memory Constraints in Comprehension: Evidence from Individual Differences, Aphasia, and Aging. In M.A. Gernsbacher (ed.), Handbook of Psycholinguistics. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.


Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P.A. 1980. Individual Differences in Working Memory and Reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 19, 450-466.


Dillinger, M. 1994. Comprehension During Interpreting: What Do Interpreters Know that Bilinguals Don't? In S. Lambert & B. Moser-Mercer (Eds.), Bridging the Gap: Empirical Research in Simultaneous Interpretation 155-190. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Gerver, D. 1975. A Psychological Approach to Simultaneous Interpretation. META 20, 119-128.


Gile, D. 1995. Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Jones, R. 1998. Conference Interpreting Explained. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome Publishing.


Just, M.A., & Carpenter, P.A. 1992. A Capacity Theory of Comprehension: Individual Differences in Working Memory. Psychological Review 99, 122-149.


Seleskovitch, D. 1978. Interpreting for International Conferences, Washington: Pen and Booth.


Seleskovitch, D. & Lederer, M. 1989. A Systematic Approach to Teaching Interpretation. Trans. by J. Harmer. Luxembourg: Didier Erudition.


Setton, R. 1999. Simultaneous Interpretation, A Cognitive-Pragmatic Analysis. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.