Numbers in simultaneous interpretation - how do you deal with them?

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Numbers in simultaneous interpretation - how do you deal with them?

Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 08:03
English to Russian
+ ...
 Apr 14, 2009

Numbers in simultaneous interpretation have always been my nemesis, so I hope to hear tips and tricks on dealing with numbers from seasoned simultaneous interpreters.

About 90% of my interpretation work is done in consecutive mode, the one I'm very good at. This is both fortunate and unfortunate - fortunate, as my difficulty with numbers rarely, if ever, is in the way of doing a good job; unfortunate, as I don't get much practice, other than my old trusted ACEBO tapes and disks at home.

I once asked three of my colleagues (all three work in the courts) how do they deal with numbers. The responses I receive were:

1. "I try to keep up with the speaker." I.e., lag behind as little as possible. Well, that might help one problem - the numbers, but create a host of others.

2. "I write them down." I asked, incredulously, but how? To write down the numbers and still to keep up seems to me even more difficult.

3. "I just suffer..." An honest answer indeed... and I can certainly relate to this one!

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Aymeric de Poyen Bellisle (X)
Switzerland
Local time: 16:03
English to French
+ ...
 Colleague Apr 14, 2009

Why don't you simply ask your boothmate to write them down for you? This is what I always do, and it's never been a problem.

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Czech Republic
Local time: 17:03
English to Czech
+ ...
 Try as hard as you can (and pray) :-) Apr 14, 2009

Well, I do more of simultaneous/chuchotage than consecutive but it's really as your colleagues say. What's interesting, when I do a simultaneous from/into English (my language B) I tend to follow the speaker as closely as possible (i.e. short term memory). When I do a simultaneous from Spanish (which is my language C and I definitely don't have so much opportunities and experience) I find it easier to note the numbers down - at least the first two/three digits if it's a long number. Even though it takes a bit more time and I may be silent for a tiny moment, I am sure that I will get the number right.

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Sergio Paris
Italy
Local time: 17:03
German to Italian
+ ...
 My experience Apr 14, 2009

Hi Alexandra,

at first I'm not a seasoned simultaneous interpreter, but I just can tell you my experience with numbers in the booth. I'm used to writing them down. It' s the only way to bear them in mind without leaving out some important piece of information you could not listen to because you are too concentrated on numbers etc. Some very experienced colleagues of mine just do the same when working in the booth.

Sergio

[Edited at 2009-04-15 07:28 GMT]

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Aine Pedersen
Slovenia
Local time: 17:03
Danish to English
+ ...
 dealing with numbers Apr 14, 2009

I tend to agree with your colleague who said "write them down" - this takes a little practice, but it is probably the best solution in most cases. However, there area few things which may help:
If you are working with numbers from a classification system such as a customs nomenclature, for example, don't try to change the way they are presented. In customs nomenclature aa number such as 79 01 19 (which may be written 7901 19) should always be left in pairs, i.e. seventy nine zero one nineteen as each pair of numbers applies to a different level of nomenclature. It is quite likely that with that kind of number only the last pair will change, or maybe the second and third pairs, while the first remains the same, in which case it may even be acceptable to ignore the first pair, but at least you don't have to keep learning a new one! or iff you are writing them, you only need to write the first pair(s) once, and after that note only the pair which changes...
Latitude and longitude (e.g. for territorial waters, ship's positions...) also come in pairs and should be left that way.

Another technique which can sometimes help is not changing the digit order if you are really in a hurry - you can say nine-and-twenty, it may be old-fashioned but it does exist and most native English speakers have probably sung that order in nursery rhymes or old folk-songs, even if they have never read Shakespeare.

One other useful aid, if you are working with a helpful and alert colleague, is to have them write down figures - but then you must be prepared to do the same for them!

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Tetyana Dytyna
Ukraine
Local time: 18:03
English to Ukrainian
+ ...

When interpreting simultaneously with a partner, we normally take turns: when one of us is interpreting the other is listening to the speaker too and jotting down numbers, proper names, dates etc.

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polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
 taking notes Apr 14, 2009

I subscribe to all three schools of thought:
In my many years in the booth, I must have used reams of paper. Not only would I note all figures/numbers (very often they were repeated so having them in front of my eyes was always helpful) but I noted names in the same way as well.
I would even note down interesting turns of phrases used by boothmates or by speakers from the floor.
And when there was nothing to write, I would doodle.
In addition, as a staffer, I worked with people I knew and we ALWAYS wrote down each other's figures, etc. just in case.
I also think you need to keep pretty close to the speaker when numbers are flying around.
Last but not least, you have to suffer !

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Claudia Catena
Italy
Local time: 17:03
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
 Write them down Apr 14, 2009

I normally work with the same booth colleague and we both write numbers, so if you're working but didn't hear the number correctly, your colleague has and can help.
It may sound weird, but after years of work together, we've found out that this is the best way,
Claudia

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Vitals
Lithuania
Local time: 18:03
Member (2008)
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
 Strange, but...works sometimes Apr 14, 2009

If the interpreter has a good sense of imagination and visual memory, sometimes it helps to VISUALIZE the numbers (to kind of close your mind's eye for that part of the sentence...or natural eye's when in the booth - and behold the number until you say it).

Also - if the language allows it - you could try to restructure the sentence in the way that the numbers would go first, and then all the rest of the things would follow. This way you keep them in your short-term memory for just a short while.

Certainly, when you put it down, you have an assurance, but sometimes you can't, then you could use one of these maybe as a last resort.

I wish you all the shortest numbers in your simultaneous translation...!

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Larissa Dinsley
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:03
Member (2003)
English to Russian
+ ...
 I write them down Apr 14, 2009

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Agnieszka Hayward
Poland
Local time: 17:03
German to Polish
+ ...
 Numbers and others Apr 14, 2009

polyglot45 wrote:

In my many years in the booth, I must have used reams of paper. Not only would I note all figures/numbers (very often they were repeated so having them in front of my eyes was always helpful) but I noted names in the same way as well.
I would even note down interesting turns of phrases used by boothmates or by speakers from the floor.
And when there was nothing to write, I would doodle.

This has been my experience as well.
Helping each other in the booth also works for me most of the time, safe for one colleague who is dramatically far sighted and prefers looking out of the booth to making and reading notes.

Slightly OT... after finding ways of dealing with numbers, my real nightmare are the long and complicated names of people's functions and positions as well as institutions they work for, especially when a number of people are being introduced one after the other. Luckily, most clients would provide me with a list of speakers, which clearly is in their best interest, too.

Regards
and happy interpreting!
Agnieszka

[Edited at 2009-04-14 22:23 GMT]

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AnneMarieG
France
Local time: 17:03
Member (2009)
German to French
+ ...
 I always agree with my booth partner Apr 15, 2009

that we would note the numbers down for the one translating.
However you need to keep in mind whether you or s/he is right and/or left handed because this might hinder you to actually read what he's writing!!

But at the end of the day, ... you suffer!

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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 08:03
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
 Thank you all! Apr 16, 2009

I would like to thank everyone who took his or her time to help. Your answers are greatly appreciated!

In my particular case, I hardly ever have a partner, as the bulk of my interpreting is in out of courtroom legal proceedings, such as depositions and examinations under oath. I'm doing it alone, which is fine, as I am not shy to ask for a break when I am exhausted.

So the advice I can use is: write them down and/or visualize them. Sounds like a good advice, and I will follow it. With lots of practice, I expect to conquer those stubborn numbers.

I want to thank you again, and to pass Vital's with to all of my colleagues: all the shortest numbers in your simultaneous translation to all of you!

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Esther Hermida
United States
Local time: 08:03
English to Spanish
+ ...
 Note taking in simultaneous interpreting in legal proceedings... Apr 21, 2009

Alexandra,

I'm a court interpreter and a conference interpreter and I always have a pad of paper to write numbers, or anything else for that matter, in both scenarios.

Be it at the witness stand, depositions, or booth, it's always a good idea to take a pad and jot down things that may come up on several occasions, it's great to refer to your notes.
I do the same for names, addresses, and so on. It requires a little practice but after a while it becomes second nature. (This is a very good idea since when you're interpreting for anyone in a legal proceeding you're not supposed to use your hands to aid while interpreting).

All the above suggestions given by others are great. Find one that fits your needs and you'll be a pro in no time.

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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 08:03
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
 Thank you very much, Esther! Apr 21, 2009

Esther Hermida wrote:

Alexandra,

I'm a court interpreter and a conference interpreter and I always have a pad of paper to write numbers, or anything else for that matter, in both scenarios.

Be it at the witness stand, depositions, or booth, it's always a good idea to take a pad and jot down things that may come up on several occasions, it's great to refer to your notes.
I do the same for names, addresses, and so on. It requires a little practice but after a while it becomes second nature. (This is a very good idea since when you're interpreting for anyone in a legal proceeding you're not supposed to use your hands to aid while interpreting).

All the above suggestions given by others are great. Find one that fits your needs and you'll be a pro in no time.

An advice from an interpreter with such impressive credentials is greatly appreciated!

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Numbers in simultaneous interpretation - how do you deal with them?

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