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News article6 May 2024Directorate-General for Translation11 min read

Interpretation Under the Olive Tree

Picture of the University of Grenoble Alpes with the title 'Olive in Provence' in the foreground

Interpretation Classes and Use of the Mini-Series

Can you think of anything funnier than a role-playing game? Surely, when you were a child, you must have enjoyed playing house with your siblings. These moments of escape allowed us to reinvent ourselves, express our imagination and experience great adventures. During these play times, we could also practice the profession of our dreams–a hairdresser, a veterinarian, a dentist… For a few hours, we were free to become whoever we wanted to be. Some of us chose to follow the path of our childhood dreams: some of us actually became hairdressers, veterinarians, or dentists. However, in many cases, and regardless of the profession, we found that our expectations were different from reality.

So, let me ask you: without knowing anything about this profession, what would you expect from an interpreter? To be a bilingual person? A good translator? A good speaker? Maybe, someone with good memory skills? You might think that an interpreter requires specialized skills. Yet, you have to discover what interpretation is in order to answer these questions.

As first-year Master’s students at the University Grenoble Alpes (UGA), we were given the chance to discover what liaison interpretation is. During the first term, we attended a 12-hour introductory course, delivered through six two-hour sessions. The course aimed to introduce us to liaison interpretation, “the most informal form of interpreting typically used during visits of delegations or at small business meetings” (VITA), defined as “the genre of interpreting where the interpreting is performed in two language directions by the same person; a style where the interpreter is physically present in an interview or meeting, and usually uses the consecutive mode of interpreting” (Gentile, Ozolins & Vasilakakos, 1996, pp. 1, 17).

The course pursued two main objectives. The primary goal of the lessons was to develop different interpretation strategies. The secondary goal was to master the particularities of liaison interpretation in the business setting. So, we would now like to invite you to immerse yourselves in our interpretation journey.

Description of the Course Content

Our classes were divided into three sections, so that we could acquire new skills and practice them. Firstly, the lessons enabled us to discover the theory of liaison interpretation and the strategies required. Secondly, we could employ these newly-discovered strategies by doing drill exercises. Thirdly, in order to complete our practice and put ourselves in an interpreter’s shoes, we would do simulation tasks both in class and at home. These tasks consisted in watching episodes of a mini-series purposely designed for this class. During these activities, we could develop interpretation skills and practice them in a variety of specialized contexts.

While each class consisted of the three distinct elements mentioned, they also addressed specific topics. Here’s a brief summary of the subjects covered and practiced.

During the first —introductory class — we learned that short-term and working memory were essential for interpreters as they needed to remember and translate information received a few seconds/minutes before, so we did memory drill exercises. During the second and third lessons, we discovered different interpretation techniques, such as paraphrasing, explanation, simplification, generalization, omission, and the Salami technique (Barik, 1971; Jones, 2002; Korpal, 2012; Lee, 2015). We also learned how to deal with numbers while interpreting and found out about some particularities of the business setting. The fourth lesson was dedicated to different aspects of liaison interpretation skills: during these two hours, we learned how to interpret taking into consideration various language- and culture-related difficulties, such as cultural aspects, touches of humor, figures of speech, as well as the difficulties associated with the specificities of interpretation in a legal setting. This part was really interesting because as you may know, interpreters may face challenges, such as interpreting a joke that does not have an equivalent in the target language. To solve these issues, interpreters have to think fast and to find effective solutions in a very short time. During the fifth lesson, we analyzed how to interpret difficult speakers, for instance, people who speak too fast, people who use offensive or inappropriate language, or/and people who have speech impediments. We also tried to understand how to determine what needs to be interpreted and what does not as not everything can or should be interpreted or translated (when a speaker makes a particular type of mistake, for example).

At the end of the semester, our last lesson was on ethics and professionalism, a topic that focused more on interpreters than interpretation. We studied the three ethical principles that must be respected by interpreters: confidentiality, impartiality, and conflict of interest. We also discovered that to become a good interpreter, some other factors should be taken into consideration: behavior, prerequisites, the way to dress, the advantages of creating glossaries, the right to refuse a job if we don’t feel competent enough, and the importance of practicing our working languages.

Once the theoretical part of the lesson was covered, we had an opportunity to practice the new skills thanks to some preparatory and simulation tasks. These exercises were directly linked to interpretation, in relation to the subject studied during the particular class. We did exercises to develop our memory and to learn how to sum up efficiently, how to simplify, and how to reformulate sentences, paragraphs, or even speeches. At the end of each lesson, we did a simulation task: we would watch an episode of the mini-series and take turns to play the interpreter. In terms of homework and evaluation, each week, we were given an episode of the mini-series to interpret, and we had to film ourselves and post our interpretation videos on the Flip platform ( These videos and a written assignment constituted our mark for this course.

Different scenes from the setting of the series Olive in Provence

Olive in Provence1: Use of the Mini-Series

While the first two elements of the course seem quite traditional, the use of the mini-series for simulation tasks is worth a detour. The mini-series “Olive in Provence” was designed for teaching purposes and aims at providing highly authentic liaison interpretation situations.

In this 11-episode series, we follow Olive Pimselton, an American business woman, as she goes to Provence (South of France) on a business trip to sign contracts with local producers, so that she can export their products to the United States to be sold in the Whole Foodsupermarket chain for which she works. However, the series is not made up of episodes that we watch passively: we also play the role of interpreter since Olive doesn’t speak French, and the French producers don’t speak English. This means that Olive and all the characters in the series address us directly, so that we can help them communicate efficiently.

The choice of using the mini-series was really professionalizing for us on several levels. Firstly, it allowed us to interpret in a variety of situations, both simple and complex, reflecting different degrees of specialization. Secondly, Olive's meetings with professionals from various sectors enabled us to acquire terminology in a wide range of specialized fields, such as wine making, accounting, olive oil production, legal and medical settings, etc. Moreover, we could discover what interpreting for a private client looked like. In many situations, we had to face several ethical dilemmas and choose how to act in order to satisfy the client without breaking the law (sometimes)! For instance, in the episode “Olive Breaks the Law, when Olive got arrested by mistake after having had an affair with a drug dealer, we had to choose between advising her company of this event or keeping this secret. As the situation was quite embarrassing and risked jeopardizing her job, she asked us — her interpreter — not to say anything to her boss. As the interpreter, we had to analyze the situation in order to make sure that we were serving the purposes of our professional mission, without letting the personal get mixed up with the professional.

Another dilemma we had to resolve occurred in the episode “Olive, honey…”. While Olive had a meeting with a local honey ‘producer,’ the young Spanish-speaking trainee came to ask his boss a question about the new delivery of honey coming from Spain. As Olive didn’t speak Spanish, she couldn’t understand this short private conversation, but as Spanish is included in our Master’s program, some of us could. The difficulty here was to choose between telling Olive what we heard or not saying anything as we were only hired to interpret from English to French and vice versa during business meetings with the local producers. In both cases, these dilemmas were ethical, and we had to decide what to interpret and what to keep to ourselves.

In terms of the organization, the series was used for in-class activities as well as for autonomous work at home. At the end of each class, we worked collectively on an episode of the series, taking turns to interpret various passages. As well as putting our knowledge and skills into practice, we were assessed on our individual interpretation of the episodes — by recording ourselves while interpreting and posting the videos on the Flip platform — as part of our continuous assessment.

In short, the series served as course materials for both class work and homework for our final grade. In addition, we were asked to write an essay on the main ethical dilemmas encountered during our interpreting journey with Olive.

Appreciation and Acquired Skills

On average, the students in our class obtained very good marks for the interpretation course. Indeed, many of us discovered that interpreting was a vocation for some; for others, the course reinforced their desire to become interpreters. As you can see, the general feeling was rather good. Practicing interpretation with the mini-series was particularly appreciated; and what’s more, it enabled us to develop many skills in different areas. In addition to discovering an exciting profession, the interpretation classes helped us strengthen our sense of ethics.

On a more personal level, while many of us struggled to get started, our memory and mastery became more fluid with each session. Indeed, filming ourselves and posting our videos was a bit daunting at first, but as time went by, we all got into the swing of things with greater ease. In order to illustrate our point, we asked our fellow students about this interpretation course. Having gathered their feedback, we have selected for you what impressed us the most:

'If I have to turn to interpretation later on, I'll do it. It doesn't scare me anymore,' Aggnia

'I did the first homework on the videos a bit hesitantly, watching them once or twice beforehand, then I gained confidence and did the last Olive videos in one go!' Pauline.

'This course has enabled me to learn a lot about interpretation, but also to realize that it's a fairly demanding field which requires technical skills,' Marie.

'Before this course, I had no idea what exactly interpretation was, or that there were different types,' Auxane.

'This course has helped me to feel more at ease when speaking and to take the fear of making mistakes out of the equation,' Aggnia.

'I don't think I'll be doing any interpreting in the future, except maybe to help out a department that needs it, like a hospital or the police, for example,' Cindy.

'The episodes in the series were a good reflection of the reality of the job, and it was interesting to ask ourselves what we should interpret and what we shouldn't, depending on the situation. Interpretation management in unexpected situations was of great interest to me, as problems of this kind are likely to arise during our missions. As a non-French speaker, I was able to learn more about the cultural differences between the USA and France,' Sara.

'I struggled a bit at first, not being too comfortable speaking, but recording myself at home really helped me to do my best,' Aline.

'I've already done some interpreting in the past, in general contexts. After that first experience, I thought I didn't want to be an interpreter, but now I'm thinking about it…,' Tiana.

'This course helped me discover that I'd like to do interpreting professionally. I still prefer written translation, but I feel comfortable enough with this discipline,' Bianca.

As Aggnia and our classmates rightly pointed out, we are no longer intimidated by interpreting, even in complex situations. The interpretation course pushed us beyond our comfort zone. Thanks to this enriching discovery, we've developed new skills and increased our self-confidence.

PS: The creation of the pedagogical mini-series was made possible by the funding provided by IdEx.

Other scenes from the setting of the series Olive in Provence


Barik, H. (1971). Description of various types of omissions, additions and errors of translation encountered in simultaneous interpretation. Meta, 16(4), 199–210.

Gentile, A., Ozolins, U., & Vasilakakos, M. (1996). Liaison interpreting. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Jones, R. (2002). Conference interpreting explained. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing

Korpal, P. (2012). Omission in simultaneous interpreting as a deliberate act. In A. Pym & D. Orrego-Carmona (Eds.), Translation research projects 4 (pp. 103–113). Tarragona: Intercultural Studies Group.

Lee, J. (2015). Court interpreting. In H. Mikkelson & R. Jourdenais (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of interpreting (pp. 186–202). New York, NY: Routledge.

Liaison Interpreting. (n.d.). In V.I.T.A. Interpreting & Translation Agency. Retrieved from interpreting is the most,visit and interprets whenever required

Photos from Evgueniya Lyu’s personal archives


[1] The title is likely an allusion to a popular TV show 'Emily in Paris'.

[2] The name is probably inspired by the real company – Whole Foods Market.


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