Monday, 29 April, 2013 - 13:30

Expert Performance and the Multilingual Brain

Alexis Hervais-Adelman

Abstract: In order to develop and maintain expertise in the highly complex cognitive skill of interpreting the human brain seemingly undergoes neuro-physiological changes. The skill of simultaneous interpreting is acquired during extensive training; we can thus assume that changes in cognitive processing and
the resources required for skill execution produce long-term functional and structural changes in the brain, both in general control areas as well as in domain-specific representational areas. This presentation identifies some of these general and specific areas based on a longitudinal study of novice interpreters.


Barbara Moser-Mercer is Professor of conference interpreting and Director of the Interpreting department at the Faculté de traduction et d’interprétation, University of Geneva. Her research focuses on cognitive and cognitive neuro-science aspects of the interpreting process and on the human performance dimension of skill development. She has co-developed the Virtualinstitute©, the first fully integrated virtual learning environment for interpreters, which she currently also leverages in partnership with ICRC, ILO, UNHCR, MSF, UN-OCHA, UN-WFP, and UNAMA for training interpreters working in conflict zones (InZone, both on-site in the field and virtually. She was a member of the High Level Group on Multilingualism of EU Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban, and has coordinated the European Masters in Conference Interpreting ( since 2008. She is also an active conference interpreter, member of AIIC ( and of AIIC’s research committee.

Alexis Hervais-Adelman, PhD. is a research associate in at the Brain and Langauge Lab in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Geneva. His early research, working with Dr. Matt Davis, Dr Ingrid Johnsrude and Dr. Robert Carlyon at the UK Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, focused on the perception of acoustically degraded speech, with a view to determining the cerebral mechanisms that enable us to comprehend speech under adverse conditions. Subsequently he worked with Prof. Roy Patterson at the Centre for the Neural Basis of Hearing, Cambridge University Department of Physiology, investigating the representation of speech sounds in human auditory cortex. Since 2009 he has worked with Prof. Narly Golestani, studying the neural basis of simultaneous interpretation. His present work uses neuroimaging techniques to determine the neural processes that enable simultaneous interpreters to carry out their highly-demanding work, and to examine the consequences of expertise in simultaneous interpretation for the brain.