I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about ‘salami technique’ (aka ‘chunking’ or ‘segmentation’) in RyR sessions.
This is a technique used in simultaneous to help the interpreter deal with the cognitive load of dense information and the differences in sentence structure between language pairs. Salami technique can also help you avoid linguistic interference, and it makes the message easier for the audience and relay-takers to digest.
It consists of breaking up long sentences (or rather, ideas) into smaller chunks in the target language, using ‘open syntax’ – by which I mean syntax that gives you many options for what to say next, rather than backing you into a corner. In practice, this means connecting ideas with coordinating conjunctions (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ and their equivalents – ‘however’, ‘thus’, ‘in addition’), rather than connecting ideas with words like ‘despite’, ‘although’, or with relative clauses.
I don’t recall being taught specifically how to use salami technique. I think it was mentioned in passing: ‘break long sentences up into smaller ones’, but no-one broke it down into:
- identify ‘units of meaning’
- reformulate a unit of meaning into an independent utterance (in grammatical terms, this is usually a clause or sentence)
- connect this to the next unit of meaning using coordinating conjunctions, making sure to preserve the logic of the original speech
I don’t want to turn this post into a very lengthy explanation of salami technique, so I’ll just make two important points:
- people often worry that if they use salami technique, the output will sound childish. a) you don’t have to use salami technique with every single sentence in the speech. It’s a coping strategy intended to help you deal with particular challenges, so you can use it judiciously. However, if you never practise it, you’ll find it hard to use. And b) salami technique relies on simple syntax (subject-verb-object with a few frills), but you can use technical, formal, or sophisticated vocabulary, and you can express complex ideas even if the grammar is straightforward.
- people often imagine salami technique as being all about chopping long sentences into lots of short ones, but in fact, sometimes you don’t make a long sentence shorter at all; you just change the syntax to make it ‘open’, which makes your life as an interpreter much easier.
The first exercise (below) is intended to help you identify units of meaning, i.e. an idea, something that could stand alone as an utterance.
For example, in the sentence “Despite severe delays at Manchester airport this morning, most delegates have made it to today’s meeting.”:
“Despite” is not a unit of meaning.
“Despite severe” is not a unit of meaning.
“Despite severe delays” is not (quite) a unit of meaning – delays with what?
“Despite severe delays at Manchester airport this morning” IS a unit of meaning. You could turn it into “There have been severe delays at Manchester airport this morning”.
If you were ‘chunking’ the sentence, you could say:
“There have been severe delays at Manchester airport this morning, BUT most delegates have made it to today’s meeting.” (inserting BUT to preserve the meaning of ‘despite’).
Beginners tend to either wait too long (i.e. they don’t start their interpretation until they’ve heard the whole sentence, up to ‘today’s meeting’), or they launch into the sentence without knowing where they’re going (perhaps after ‘despite severe delays’). Neither technique is safe; if you systematically wait too long, you end up leaving out information. If you start too soon, you take unnecessary risks (what if an unknown word comes up?).
Exercise 1- text (basic level)
For this exercise, it’s best to have a paper copy of the text you’ll be working with. You can copy/paste it and print it off, download the article and print it, or whatever works for you!
What you need to do is read through the text, putting a forward slash wherever you identify a unit of meaning. [This text is an adapted version of an article from the Guardian.]
Here’s the first paragraph, but the whole text is in the PDF below.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, today I want to talk about the opinions of Diane Abbott, who is, or was, Britain’s first black Labour MP. In the papers at the weekend, she wrote an article in which she expressed the idea that the racism experienced by black people in the UK cannot be compared with, or is on a different scale than, the prejudice (as she called it) experienced by Jewish people in the UK, or Irish travellers, or other ethnic minority groups.
In other words, she was establishing a hierarchy of racism, where ‘my racism is worse than your racism’, and where she was almost minimising the significance of antisemitism, which is very much a sore point for the Labour party in the UK at the moment.
In fact, she actually likened the prejudice, as she called it – not ‘racism’- experienced by Jewish people and Travellers, with the same sort of thing experienced by people who have red hair.”
This text, and the video below, contain the ‘n’ word (in a quote), so please don’t read or listen if you find this offensive.
We’ll try this with a different section of the text, but you can of course go through the whole text in the same way.
Your task is, again, to go through and identify units of meaning. Then for each unit of meaning, see how you can reformulate it (out loud or in your head) to make an independent utterance (a sentence, or a clause that you connect to the next one as necessary).
Could you tackle the units of meaning in a different order?
*note: you can reformulate from English into English (if English is your A or B language), or from English into your A language.
“To counter her argument that the “prejudice” experienced by Irish, Jewish and Traveller people is not a patch on the “racism” suffered by black people, I cannot improve on the letter from someone whose family left a city in Poland where more than 99% of Jews were exterminated for their race and whose experiences of British antisemitism includes having Nazi insignia brandished in their face. As the anonymous writer says: “To compare those experiences to the struggles of redheads is incomprehensible.””
Let’s move on to the spoken word.
You can choose ONE of the following exercises to work with, or you can do them all in order.
Listen to the video (no interpreting!), and tap on the table whenever you identify a unit of meaning.
Watch the video. As you’re listening, as soon as you identify a unit of meaning, press pause. Think about how you could reformulate what you’ve heard as a separate sentence (or clause), using SVO order where possible (subject, verb, object).
You can do this English>English if English is your A or B language, or you can reformulate in your A language if English is a C. Or you can do both! 🙂
This time, watch the video, and either interpret it into your A language (if that isn’t English), OR do a simultaneous reformulation of the content, i.e. work from English into English, using salami technique where possible.
It takes discipline to go from English into English and AVOID repeating everything you hear.
Remember, this is not a shadowing exercise, but a reformulation exercise.
I hope you found this salami technique exercise useful!