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SephocleDr. Marilyn Sephocle
January 2011

Howard University is one of only two U.S. universities that offer Simultaneous Interpretation, thanks to the efforts of German professor Marilyn Sephocle, her colleagues in the Department of World Languages, and the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center.  With Dr. Carol Beane and Dr. Antonio Rodriguez, Dr. Sephocle founded the Simultaneous Interpretation Unit at the Bunche Center in 1995, when the Center purchased the equipment with a Kellogg Foundation grant.  To date, only Monterrey Institute boasts a similar unit in the U.S.  Manufactured by Braehler, Howard’s unit consists of receivers, infrared microphones, headphones, and a booth equipped with a dual console that permits interpretation into two languages at once.

According to Dr. Sephocle, “simultaneous interpretation is the art of delivering speech from one language into the other in real time.”  Currently, Dr. Sephocle and her colleagues teach this skill in nine languages:  Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Swahili, Arabic, and Haitian Creole.  A speaker of nine languages, Dr. Sephocle teaches her simultaneous Interpretation class in three so that the students not only improve their interpretation and fluency in their target language but also become familiar with another foreign language.  Moreover, she affords students the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment at the U.S. State Department and at international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and Organization of American States.  Tapping her own funds, Dr. Sephocle has even invested in portable equipment to expose students to a range of devices and to facilitate the annual class trips to interpretation working sessions at the United Nations.

SephocleDuring the 16 years Dr. Sephocle has taught simultaneous interpretation at Howard, she has observed that “students typically start the semester interpreting with 50% accuracy and complete the semester with 90% accuracy on the average.”   Most rewarding are the reports from alumni.  Says Dr. Beane, “Over the years, we have seen how for the students this course has opened windows and doors to academic and professional possibilities and life adventures theretofore unanticipated.”  Indeed, one graduate was hired as an interpreter at the World Bank.  Consequently, enrollment has steadily risen over the years.   Because of the growing demand, Dr. Sephocle and her colleagues now accept 17 students, even though the course is capped at 15. They have also integrated video conferencing and dream of one day offering the course in a distance-learning format to reach students beyond Howard’s campus.




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