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The Application Of Schema Theory In Consecutive Interpretation

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Schema theory, since firstly proposed in 1932, initially originated in cognitive psychology. It lays foundation for human beings to apprehend the outside world. In the past two decades, many researches have been done in the L2 learning from the perspective of schema theory. Inspired by the previous studies, this author decided to penetrate into the topic of the application of schema theory in consecutive interpretation. The findings of this thesis demonstrate the importance of abundant background knowledge for a qualified interpreter. It is the author's hope that this thesis can benefit herself and her peers in their interpretation learning as well as their field interpretation work.

Key Words: schema theory; background knowledge; comprehension; consecutive interpreting process


The history of interpretation activities can be traced back to several thousand years ago. However, it was not until the 20th century had interpretation had its "official debut" as a profession. There is a flourishing of interpretation studies in recent years and more and more scholars take interdisciplinary approaches to the interpretation study. With enlightenment of previous studies done by scholars such as Prof. Liu Jianfu and Prof. Wang Lidi, this author decided to adopt a cognitive approach to the study of consecutive interpretation. She took the schema theory into the interpretation research and found out how background knowledge influenced the consecutive interpretation in its process and its performance. Although many scholars have described their own pedagogy in this field so far, research contributed by trainees themselves has been so rare. It is the author's hope that the findings of this thesis can benefit herself and her peers in their interpretation learning as well as their field interpretation work.

To reach the objective, the paper is structured with four parts, plus this introduction and a conclusion.

Part One starts with the basic concept of schema theory and the relationship between schema and comprehension.

Part Two gives the definition of consecutive interpretation and describes the process of consecutive interpretation in detail.

Part Three probes into the significance of background knowledge in consecutive interpretation.

Par Four penetrates into the discussion of the experiment conducted by Prof. Liu Jianfu and relates the achievement of experiment to the author's own experiences

In the conclusion the author sums up the findings and the limitations of the paper.

Part One: Schema Theory

This part serves as a theoretical frame for this thesis. At the beginning it falls in the concept of schema and then the relationship between schema and comprehension.

1.1 The Concept of Schema Theory

The concept of schema theory was first proposed by the British psychologist F. C. Bartlett(Wang, 2001:19). But it was not until the 1970s that enough attention was paid to the significance of the schema theory. Since the 1970s, this notion has become a heat question among the psychologists. Nowadays, linguists, cognitive psychologists, and psycholinguists have used the concept of schema (plural: schemata) to understand the interaction of key factors affecting the comprehension process.

Schema theory, based on the psycholinguistic model of reading, views reading as an interaction between the readers' background knowledge and the reading text. As Pearson-Casanave (Wang, 2006:11) points out, the text itself does not carry meaning; it provides clues that enable readers to construct meaning from existing knowledge.

Simply put, schema theory states that knowledge is organized into units. Within these units of knowledge, or schemata, is stored information. A schema, then, is a generalized description or a conceptual system for understanding knowledge----how knowledge is represented and how it is used. According to this theory, schemata represent knowledge about concepts: objects and the relationships they have with other objects, situations, events, sequences of events, actions, and sequences of actions.

Generally there are three kinds of schemata, namely the formal schema, the content schema and the language schema. The formal schema includes the writing style, structure and logic etc. The content schema includes the concrete events. The language schema includes the dictions and the vocabulary.

Individuals have schemata for everything. Long before students come to school, they develop schemata (units of knowledge) about everything they experience.

A simple example is to think of your schema for an article about Chengdu. Within that schema you are most likely to have some general information about the structure of passage----it's an informative article and it is written in the spatial order. And you have some specific knowledge about its content: location, population, history, food, climate of Chengdu. And probably some certain places are also introduced: Sichuan University, Jinsha Museum, Huanhuaxi Park, Wuhou Temple, Wenshu Monastery to name but a few. Depending on your personal experience, the knowledge of some restaurants which offer delicious food may also be included in your own content schema. The language schema of the article is your language familiarity with the passage.

1.2 Schema and Comprehension

Information that does not fit into these schemata may not be comprehended, or may not be comprehended correctly. This is the reason why interpreters have a difficult time comprehending a text on a subject they are not familiar with even if the person comprehends the meaning of the individual words in the passage. This happens a lot in the beginners' interpretation learning in particular. For example, there was at one time an undergraduate student who went to apply for the job of escort interpreter for the International Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival. During the interview the interviewer asked the candidate to do the English-Chinese sight interpreting of the following paragraph:

"The First Extraordinary Session of UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage will be held from May 23rd to May 27th, at the Crown Plaza, Chengdu. It is an important part of the International Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival. More than 200 participants from all over the world will attend



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