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Should note-taking be used in consecutive interpreting?
Thread poster: thoachip
thoachip
English to Vietnamese
Jan 8, 2006

Hi everyone, I'm studying on the pros and cons of note-taking during consecutive interpreting.
As you all know, it is widely thought that good note-taking is useful in consecutive interpreting. However, I sometimes found that note-taking does worsen our interpreting.
So, what do you think aboutr this problem? I would want to here from you all.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-01-08 14:53]


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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:09
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Moving this post ... Jan 8, 2006

... to the Interpreting forum.

Best,
Steffen


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Fuad Yahya  Identity Verified
Arabic
+ ...
Note taking is a tool that needs to be adapted to individual needs and sepcific situations Jan 9, 2006

Short-term memory being what it is, interpreters differ in their ability to recollect names, dates, figures, and other facts. They also differ in their ability to coordinate note-taking and listening. Situations also vary, requiring different tactics with regards to how much information to note. In most cases, a short-hand approach is recommended, but there is no single system that can work equally well for everybody.

One factor that varies greatly in different situations is the interlocutors themselves. Some people speak in measured, perfectly sculpted senteces, with frequent, judiciously placed pauses, allowing a nearly simultaneous interpreting approach, while others ramble freely and at length.

The language pairs and subject matter can also impact the situation.

One cautionary note: Notes taken during an interpreting assignment may be subpoenaed. If you are not in the habit of purging your records, your notes may end up being part of the record in case of an investigation or litigation.


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:09
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Have pen and paper ready... Jan 10, 2006

Fuad's comments are all correct and helpful.

You cannot take proper notes when you are interpreting, but usually you can write down the occasional few words to guide or remind you, particularly names, dates, figures.

If you can cope very well without notes, then don't bother. If you are standing or walking with the parties, you may not be able to do it anyway. Even so, assignements vary greatly, and you may find situations, when you wish to write something down. Names in particular may have to be spelt, addresses given precisely, and you cannot afford to make mistakes with figures. So have have pen and paper ready.

I would not let anybody rumble freely and at length, unless it is a very general conversation. You can politely ask the person to say no more than a couple of sentences or so at a time, to give you a chance to interpret more precisely. It usually works, and it is in their own interest. It also gives them the chance to collect their thoughts while you are interpreting. Nobody takes offence.

Sometimes the reverse is true, the person gives you a fraction of a sentence at a time. That can be just as difficult to translate when the structure of the target language is different. Again, if it is a problem, it helps to explain that a full sentence would be preferable from the linguistic point of view.

Fuad is absolutely right about caution: destroy your notes a.s.a.p. particularly if they are more than just a few words.
An interpreter is not obliged to keep records - just the oppposite - but if they exist, they could be used for all sorts of purposes.


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Pablo Grosschmid  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
my 2 cents Jan 10, 2006

Good note taking is a MUST for consecutive interpretation.

Forget shorthand.
Note ONLY symbols for what you feel you will need to help you reconstruct the discourse: names, figures, dates and LOGICAL LINKS between parts of speech.

Have a look at the standard notation signs developed by professionals (you can find references on the Web), adapt and complete them as you like, with signs, easy-to-draw ideograms (arrows, strokes, stress marks, whatever) to develop YOUR OWN notation system.

By the way, notation is independent from source and target language.

Train and train until you know your notation system by heart and can write your notes without loosing concentration on what the speaker says.

Do not worry about your notes being a record: nobody will be able to decipher them (not even you, after a couple of days).

Good luck !


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Pablo Cañamares  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 15:09
Russian to Spanish
+ ...
An Experiment by Sergio Viaggio Jan 10, 2006

I would like to sum up once concept which came up in all responses:

Note taking hinders you if it prevents you from concentrating in what is being said.
My personal experience is that when I was too busy taking notes (because of inexperience, nerves sometimes) I simply and plainly stopped listening, and I might even say, hearing.

The difference became evident when I studied interpreting in some classes.

Some teachers forced pupils to follow a very determinate set of symbols and notation. In the exam you had to give your notes along with the tape.

Other groups had teachers that showed some possible simbols, but let everyone use a personal system. They did not care for your notes, they evaluated only on the merits of the final delivery.

Well, pupils from the first group performed worse, simply because they started to think about how the teacher wanted the symbols. In that case, notes were hampering the interpreting.

It was Sergio Viaggio who arrived at this conclusion in a conference I attended in college. He did an experiment in which 4 people would listen to a pretty long text.

Two of them took notes (one was an interpreting student and the other was not) and two of them did not take notes (again, one took notes, the other didn't).

The result was that the non-interpreting student with notes could later recall very little of the text, more than a few isolated sentencies.

The students without notes could recall all the story and the argumentation, but of course they lost a lot of detail.

Finally, the interpreting student with notes was able to get the gist of the story and most of the detail.

Of course, I agree that the use or not depends on circumstances, as well as expertise, but those occasions in which you have to translate a few sentences or perhaps a conversation, I call them "liaison interpreting" leaving the term "consecutive" for those occasions in which notes are compulsory because of the duration of the speeches. (Please; correct me if I am wrong)


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
Another opinion Jan 10, 2006

I'm a court interpreter. When you interpret in the consecutive mode in a court of law, you are interpreting witness testimony, the rest is done in simultaneous mode. What you say goes on the record. It needs to be very accurate.
No one will make you take notes if you don't want to. If your memory is excellent, and you don't need to write anything down, then more power to you. I've never met anyone who could interpret without taking notes.
Like Pablo said, if nothing else, you will be required to recite addresses, amounts, dates of birth, names of places and people, and a long list of other minutiae that it's very difficult to retain without writing it down. And there's nothing worse than thinking that you're in control, and out comes this long statement from the witness, without pauses, full of detailed information and you weren't taking notes. The interpreter never knows in advance the degree of difficulty, or the length of the statement of the speaker. That's why it's wise to be prepared.
I don't need to mention that in court interpreting one must interpret word by word exactly what was said. It's very hard to do this without notes.
It's been my experience that sometimes note taking can be distracting. This can only be overcome with practice. If you are doing consecutive interpretation and the statements are brief, and easy to interpret, then lucky you. If not, you need to be prepared, or you'll be asking for a repetition, and that disrupts the proceedings because as you know, very rarely does a witness repeat exactly the same thing that was originally said.
Now, in a different situation, like in escort interpreting, accuracy is not as crucial, and an interpreter may be able to get away with not taking notes and asking for repetitions or clarifications.
Every court interpreter I know agrees that interpreting in the consecutive mode is most difficult because you rely on your memory and on your ability to take notes (and to understand your notes). Everyone should develop their own system of symbols and abbreviations, whatever works best for them.
I agree with the colleague who discouraged the use of shorthand in note taking. And there are many reasons for that. One of them is, do you learn shorthand in both languages, or just one? If you only know shorthand in one language, then you need to translate what you are hearing first, then change it into symbols as you take notes. That adds an extra step to your already difficult mental process. Are you going to remember when you simply have to switch from shorthand to speaking (because you translated it before writing it down in shorthand), or is it shorthand that needs to be interpreted before you speak? You may find yourself repeating the passage in the same language that it was uttered, if you don't pay close attention. I've had nightmares about looking at my notes and not being able to decipher them. Simplicity is key. We already have to display great mental agility and speed in order to interpret and remember, why make it even harder by adding an extra step? My superhero cape is at the cleaners, I'm just a mortal being. Anything that you can do to make your work easier is always a good idea.
In one of the federal courts where I have worked they allow interpreters to work in tandem during consecutive witness testimony using a digital recorder. And it works so well, I love it, because it turns consecutive interpreting into simultaneous, and I don't have to worry about the witness speaking for too long. The court allows it because a digital recorder doesn't use a tape, so there is no record.
There's also talk about using real time information from the court reporter's computer screen, so that we can do sight interpreting instead of consecutive. Another good idea. The interpreter would then sit behind a screen and he/she would have the whole statement in black and white before his/her eyes to interpret faithfully without missing a sigh or a comma.
Until the day that we can use those tools all the time, a good old pencil and paper will do the trick.

[Edited at 2006-01-11 05:35]

[Edited at 2006-01-11 05:39]


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:09
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Court interpreting Jan 11, 2006

teju wrote:

I'm a court interpreter. When you interpret in the consecutive mode in a court of law, you are interpreting witness testimony, the rest is done in simultaneous mode. What you say goes on the record. It needs to be very accurate.

...out comes this long statement from the witness, without pauses, full of detailed information and you weren't taking notes. The interpreter never knows in advance the degree of difficulty, or the length of the statement of the speaker. That's why it's wise to be prepared.
...If you are doing consecutive interpretation and the statements are brief, and easy to interpret, then lucky you. If not, you need to be prepared, or you'll be asking for a repetition, and that disrupts the proceedings because as you know, very rarely does a witness repeat exactly the same thing that was originally said.
...In one of the federal courts where I have worked they allow interpreters to work in tandem during consecutive witness testimony using a digital recorder. And it works so well, I love it, because it turns consecutive interpreting into simultaneous, and I don't have to worry about the witness speaking for too long. The court allows it because a digital recorder doesn't use a tape, so there is no record.


From the relevant extracts above of teju's reply, it became obvious to me (and I should have thought of it before) that courts in different countries use interpreters in different ways.

In the UK the interpreter stands next to the witness who doesn't speak English, the judge or barristers ask questions from the witness, these are interpreted to him/her and the answer is interpreted again. There is no question of lengthy statements, because the witness is reminded at the outset to answer the question directly and concisely. It usually means a few sentences at a time. If the witness "carries on", then he/she is reminded to pause for the interpretation to be heard. Usually they realise fairly quickly how it works and they take a pause after a few sentences.

If the defendant is the one not speaking English it happens exactly the same way when he is being questioned.
In these cases the interpreter can take notes, but quite frankly, there is no time for more than as mentioned, names, addresses, dates, figures and a few key words. But these notes should be destroyed by the interpreter, even if they are not very legible.

When the defendant is sitting in the dock and observes the proceedings then the interpretation is simultaneous, just for him, and then there is basically no time to make notes.
The difficulty in this situation often is, that there may be more defendants together in the dock who are also having the proceedings interpreted, and there is such a murmur of voices, that you can't hear very well what is being said in the courtroom.


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thoachip
English to Vietnamese
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all for your replies! Jan 11, 2006

In fact, it is really a big surprise of mine to receive so many enthusiastic opinions from you all.
I would like to say that I strongly agree with the points that note-taking is an essential tool for consecutive interpreting. However, the problem is how and what to note, otherwise interpreters will surely fail to understand the theme of what has been said.
What I am doing currently is carrying out a small experiment on about 30 interpreting students to prove my hypothesis that effective note-taking does improve the interpreting student's performance in consecutive interpreting. At first, I intended to carry out a more ambitious experiment of about 100 students. However, I soon discover a number of challenges, in terms of experimenters, facilities, etc. As a result, I had to narrow down my study on only 30 good students, which may be less reliable, but unquestionably more feasible.
Finally, I would like to thank you all again for your support.

[Edited at 2006-01-11 18:21]


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
Ah... Jan 11, 2006

Would you please let us know what you find out when you finish your research?
Thanks.


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Zhijun JIANG  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:09
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Just takes notes for those which make difference Jan 12, 2006

As an interpreter & transaltor, I know it is difficult to take notes for all sentences, even most of them. What I do is memorize the main contents and the context of the sentences with your short-term memory, and takes notes for number, name, place, year etc., which really makes difference if forgotten.

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Dusica Cook  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 14:09
English to Bosnian
+ ...
sometimes Jan 15, 2006

i usually avoid consecutive, and mostly do simultaneous interpreting. still, once in a while, someone calls who i can not say no to, and i do it... i hate it every time as it drains all my energy from me, i get a headache and so on... still, that is not the question!

i take a pen and a notepad with me, just in case... for something that i am really familiar with and really working on and can guess what the conversation is going to look like, i will need no notes. but...(always a but) for anything more complicated, or when i am tired, or when i don't really understand what is going on, i NOTE! i use some kind of a system with arrows, boxes, circles and stuff and i always start interpreting from the second part of the sentence, if that is possible. i.e. i do a good note-taking for teh first part and memorise the second part, and then i first speak from my memory and than use the notes!

i found this to save my concentration and helps me do it right.

hope this helped!


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andy77
Local time: 14:09
German to English
+ ...
systematic notes are key to success Jan 20, 2006

hi

although speeches are all different, they actually throw up a very finite range of problems for the interpreter to deal with (like lists, or links between ideas). Successful interpreters note the same rhetorical devices in the same way each time they come up (so lists are always noted vertically on the page, links always at the left of the page etc).

There are many more problems that the interpreter has to face, but as long as he/she has a systematic approach to each one then notes will help not hinder. A systematic approach will by definition be a well practised one. This means that you can turn the speech into notes immediately, without thinking, "how do I note that then!". This is an essential time-saver.

Have a look at the books on the following page...

http://interpreters.free.fr/reading/consec.htm

These are the most significant books on note-taking published so far. (With the exception of Matyssek which was a landmark book but a method which has since been discredited)

The Jones, Rozan and Gillies books are very practical. The Andres is a very interesting experiment about how notes are taken. There are links to extracts and conclusions from all of these books.

enjoy


andy77


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