A while ago a few bloggers (Matthias and Elisabeth, to some extent Lionel, too) wrote about the discomfort zone in interpreter training and the general physical and psychological strength needed during the studies. I agree with all of them, and underline that interpreter training is not one you could undergo just like that, without any effort or hard work, or as we say in Slovenian with one's left hand.
At our faculty, the core of the interpreting course is the second year of MA where students concentrate on consecutive and simultaneous technique, but have some other general interpreter related subjects to pass, too. Personally, I would try introducing these general subject already in the first year of the MA course and leave the last year entirely to the interpreting practice, teacher assisted and unsupervised, but probably there are reasons for this arrangement (administrative or others).
But how does the general learning curve look like in interpreter training? Well, I believe that is resembles the S-shaped one, with an addition, it has one or several steep drops in the rising phase. Don't ask me to draw it, but I will try to explain it. After having familiarized with and practiced the techniques, students usually expect a steady growth in their performance but this often takes more time than imagined. After a great performance, the next one might be a disaster, and the following one, two, three even greater ones. In simultaneous for example, when we think we've managed the split attention and the listening, analyzing and speaking at the same time, other problems pop up, be it inappropriate lag, speed difficulties, too many omissions or even linguistic problems we never dreamt of (in Slovenian usually errors in declinations or wrong prepositions, or register problems and the inclination to start parroting - translating words and structures, not transposing the meaning). But rest assured, this is perfectly normal and according to an interpreting scholar (Gile and his efforts model) things start to improve with the real mastery of the task (when different aspects don't take so much effort).
However, all this burden might be too heavy to deal with. Normally, teachers always say something positive too, but students mostly retain the negative feedback, the criticism, which is of course discouraging, as would be for any normal person. This is why, strong psychological core is vital for every student. Criticism should not affect their self-confidence and image, they should be strong enough to persist through these difficult phases and try to incorporate teachers' advices into each and every interpreting practice. Start anew each speech, forget about that horrendous feelings they had during the last feedback, which exposed all their flaws and errors (even if they were perfectly masked as benevolent tips and suggestions). This is demanding and takes up a lot of energy and self-control (one might add acting skill), but I believe it's the only way forward, towards progress and that confident plateau we want to achieve during training.
Not that I'm a big fan of Cher, but the "Strong Enough" is a great motto!
Overcoming these difficult times can be easier with some sort of physical activity, yoga or meditation, where students can let go (sweat off) of their fears and regain the powers and grip to continue the hard climb up the learning slope. Alas, things have to be dealt with quickly and efficiently, as the courses are limited to only 2 semesters (4 if you're lucky), so student should try to benefit from the guidance they are given (so no skipping classes or missing out practice).
I perfectly remember that awkward feeling (self-deception, tiredness, anger and much more) I often had during and after practice, how often I thought that it would be better to skip the afternoon sessions and regain my strength in peace, away from the classroom booths, even take a day off and shut down all the TV news and podcasts and just dwell in the silence. I still remember the headaches I had, almost every evening, after returning home, and still knowing I have to prepare for the next day, finish the glossary, read another article or two (oh, yes, and spend time with my husband and daughter, if by any chance she was still awake in the late hours I returned home...). But I remember one of our teachers, too, who repeatedly told us that training is just an "ouverture" to real life, professional life, especially if you decide to work as a freelance. So I decided to take time off only when allowed (holidays, weekend), but then very effectively! ;) You need to build up stamina and strength for dealing with this type of stress, balancing the demands of the profession, the client, your personal life.
I thought that professional life couldn't be as hard as that, but I was wrong, really. Training course offers you a safe place for experimenting, and if you have a bad day, it can stay at that one bad day. But is you start experimenting in real life and have a bad day while on serious duty, the repercussions might be far more severe and life-turning. So, I am not sure how much comfort zone and cocoon treatment is in fact appropriate if we want to prepare students for the 'real thing'. I don't think that there are any shortcuts.
As with any skill, interpreter skills take a lot of effort to develop, and time of course. Interpreter training courses in fact exist to help students overcome basic hurdles and equip them with coping strategies in a safe environment (where there is no risk of loosing a client or one's reputation), so students need to take these advantages and be prepared to soak all this in, think and reflect on the profession, the techniques and their performance, and ask questions to their teachers and mentors. Surely, new options are opening up for dealing with questions and answers (interpreting.info and the Vega network are fine examples of that), but they should seize the opportunity they have with "mentors" at their hands, because they are there for them.
Interpreter training is hard, but well worthwhile as it prepares you and opens the gates to one of the best and most rewarding professions there are out there! ;)