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Unraveling the Colonomos Processing Model: A crucial framework for Interpreters and Translators

BSL interpreters and translators have access to a variety of interpreting processing models that have been developed over the years, from linguists such as Daniel Gile, Graham Turner, and Jemina Napier to name a few, each offering unique approaches to help interpreters and translators understand the interpreting/translation processes and profession better.

Understanding interpreting/translation models is crucial for professionals as having a solid understanding of them can significantly shape their practice. Familiarity with diverse processing models enables interpreters and translators to adapt to various contexts, improving their effectiveness and ensuring optimal communication for Deaf and hearing clients alike. One such model that has impacted the field of BSL interpreting and translating is the Betty Colonomos Language Processing Model which was influenced by the work of Danica Seleskovitch (1978). In this article, we will explore the basic concepts of this model, its role in translation and interpreting, and how it can be applied to improve BSL interpreters' and translators' skills.

Exploring the Basic Concepts of the Betty Colonomos Model

Betty Colonomos’ Interpreter/Translator Processing Model is based on the understanding that interpreting and translating are complex cognitive processes that require a deep understanding of both the source language (SL) and the target language (TL) and cultures. The model emphasises the importance of active processing, rather than mere word-for-word translation and it encourages interpreters and translators to focus on the meaning behind the words and to convey that meaning accurately in the target language.

The Colonomos model is defined as having three parts:

  • Comprehension

  • Representation

  • Planning / Delivery

To be an effective BSL interpreter or translator, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of both the source language and the target language and the Colonomos Model stresses the importance of source language and target language processing. Source language (SL) processing involves actively listening or observing the source language message and understanding its meaning in the context in which is signed or spoken. This requires interpreters and translators to have a strong command of the source language vocabulary, grammar, and cultural context.

On the other hand, target language (TL) processing involves converting the source language message into the target language in a way that accurately conveys the meaning. This requires interpreters and translators to have a solid grasp of the target language's vocabulary, grammar, and cultural nuances. Understanding and processing both the source language (SL) and target language (TL) for meaning lies at the core of effective interpretation. Rather than focusing solely on a word-for-word rendition, interpreters and translators should prioritise conveying the underlying essence and intent of the speaker's message.** This approach ensures that the message's true significance is accurately transmitted, accounting for cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and context-specific meanings. In contrast, a word-for-word approach might lead to awkward phrasing, inaccuracies, and a lack of coherence in the interpreted message, ultimately impeding successful cross-lingual communication.

This is where the Colonomos Model plays a vital role in the field of translation and interpreting by providing a structured framework for interpreters and translators to follow. This model highlights the importance of understanding the context and culture in which the communication is taking place, as well as the specific needs and preferences of the individuals involved. By considering these factors, interpreters and translators can ensure that their interpretations and translations are accurate and culturally appropriate.

The Colonomos Model also suggests techniques for effective source language and target language processing, such as chunking information, using appropriate linguistic structures, and adapting the message for the target audience. Above all, the most important thing is for interpreters and translators to be actively processing the meaning of the source language, whether that be BSL or English. Below is a more detailed look at the three stages of the model.


The first stage of the Colonomos Model is comprehension. Comprehension is crucial for BSL interpreters and translators as it enables them to fully engage with the speaker or text and accurately process the information. Without comprehension, interpreters may miss important details or nuances, leading to potential misunderstandings or misinterpretations. The model suggests that in particular interpreters/translators should pay particular attention to the following when receiving the incoming source language:

  • Analyse language for meaning

  • Access images and mnemonics

  • Consider cultural influences

  • Consider context and setting

One effective strategy for improving comprehension is preparation. Preparation involves taking the time to familiarise oneself with the topic, content, and context of the communication before the interpreting or translating assignment begins. By doing so, interpreters and translators can mentally prepare themselves and anticipate potential challenges or difficulties. Preparation also allows for the organisation of thoughts and ideas, facilitating a smoother and more accurate interpretation or translation.


The second stage of the Colonomos Model is representation. Representation refers to the process of accurately conveying the meaning of the source language message in the target language. This goes beyond word-for-word translation and requires interpreters and translators to understand the underlying concepts and cultural nuances.

The model suggests techniques for effective representation, such as paraphrasing, using appropriate idioms or expressions, and adapting the tone and register of the language to suit the target audience. Interpreters and translators need to strip the source language of ‘words/signs’ during this stage and consider how ideas are represented in the target language. Consider how differences in both languages and cultures will affect the target language users understanding of the original source language message. Interpreters/translators will need to create their representation of the speaker’s message and this of course will be influenced by how well they have comprehended the original message.

A relatively easy example to highlight the process would be to take the phrase “It is raining cats and dogs”, and consider what image does that conjure in your mind’s eye? How would you ‘experience’ that when it was said by the speaker? For most, the phrase is understood to mean that “it is raining heavily” and so the interpreter/translator then moves on to the next stage of the model which is to begin planning how they will deliver the same message/idea in the target language.

Planning /Delivery:

Planning/Delivery is the final stage of the Colonomos model. It involves accurately conveying the meaning of the source language message in the target language and making conscious decisions about the interpreters'/translators' output in the target language.

Referring back to the example above of: “It is raining cats and dogs.” here, the interpreter or translator would start to plan the delivery of the target language taking into consideration several factors such as:

  • The context in which it was said (what is the situation, formal/informal, what came before the sentence)

  • The emphasis or tone it was given when uttered.

  • The speakers intended goals (what are they trying to achieve)

  • How will this be delivered in the target language (if BSL - what non-manual features (NMF’s), speed, repetition, location of signs will be used to accurately reflect the source language, etc.) to accurately match the original source language?

Cultural references/nuances.

Colonomos suggested that one technique for effective delivery in the target language is to make use of paraphrasing. Paraphrasing involves rephrasing the source language message in the target language while maintaining the original meaning. This technique allows interpreters and translators to adapt the message to suit the target audience and convey the intended meaning more accurately. Additionally, using appropriate idioms or expressions in the target language can help capture the nuances of the source language message and ensure accurate representation.

In more complex settings, however, where there may be a need to switch to consecutive mode, another strategy for effective planning/delivery of the target language that Colonomos suggested is ‘chunking’. Chunking is a process that involves breaking down the source language message into smaller, more manageable chunks of information. This allows interpreters and translators to process the information more effectively and ensures accurate interpretation or translation and can also help to reduce the cognitive load of the interpreter/translator. Sweller et al.(2011)

Applying the Betty Colonomos Model

By developing a deeper understanding of the interpreting process, the features of the languages being interpreted, and cultural influences on language use, and understanding interpreters and translators can produce more accurate and reflective renditions in the target language.

Understanding the process of interpreting, and what happens when one is actively processing the language can also help interpreters and translators identify areas for improvement and help them pinpoint where the process may be breaking down to improve their overall skills.

Training programs or even individual CPD plans can include practical exercises that focus on comprehension, representation, source language and target language processing, and planning/delivery. These exercises can help interpreters and translators develop or improve the necessary skills and competencies to excel in their profession.

The Colonomos Interpreter/Translator Processing Model is a helpful framework for BSL interpreters and translators. By understanding and applying the basic concepts of this model, interpreters and translators can enhance their skills, improve their performance, and ensure accurate and culturally appropriate interpretations and translations.

From the importance of comprehension and representation to the significance of source language and target language processing, the Betty Colonomos Model provides a comprehensive framework for effective BSL interpreting and translating. By embracing this model and incorporating its techniques and strategies into their practice, BSL interpreters and translators can improve their skills and identify ways in which they can improve their practice.


Colonomos, M. (2015) Integrative Model of Interpreting, Supplemental Notes & Diagrams. Bilingual Mediation Center, Inc

Seleskovitch, D. (1978) Interpreting for International Conferences. Penn and Booth, Washington, DC.

Sweller, J., Ayres, P., and Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive Load Theory. Berlin: Springer.

** There are instances when interpreters and translators may be required to give a more literal translation however, in general processing the incoming SL for meaning in the TL should be the primary goal.

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