A growing number of studies suggest that our life experiences have a measurable influence on our cognitive abilities and brain structure. This is apparent both in investigations of experts in a particular field and in examinations of skill acquisition and training. Simultaneous interpretation (SI) provides a unique model for these research areas. SI is a cognitively demanding process in which an individual must comprehend a stream of auditory material in one language and with a few seconds delay produce the same content in another language. To perform SI at a professional level, a considerable amount of skill is necessary, which is acquired through specific training.

The present talk will discuss the influence that expertise and training in SI have on cognitive processes and brain structure. We will start by asking the question “Are interpreters experts?” and if so, “In what?” Results from a study on the cognitive abilities of professional interpreters and multilinguals will aid us in answering this question. We will then examine the provenance of the cognitive advantages seen in interpreters, considering whether they are innate or acquired through training. A longitudinal study of students earning a Master’s degree in Conference Interpreting, Translation, and other fields will allow us to look for initial advantages and training-related advantages in cognitive abilities.

Additionally, neuroimaging data from this study will allow us to explore changes in brain structure over the course of SI training. Finally, we will examine whether interpreter advantages are stable or transient by looking at the specific effects of classroom training and recent practice with SI on verbal fluency and language switching abilities.


Laura Babcock is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. She received an MS in Linguistics from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA and a PhD in Neuroscience from the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy.

Her research centers on how life experiences and expertise influence human cognition and brain structure. Drawing on her Linguistics background, Laura’s work often uses multilingualism as a model of life experience and simultaneous interpretation as a model of expertise.