Interpreting with amnesia
Thread poster: Fabriziat
Jul 18, 2011

I'm a student translating/interpreting Dutch - English - French. I was a freshman when a neurologist discovered an injury in my brains, I had to be operated on as soon as possible. Everything is ok now, but unfortunately my short-term memory is damaged + it's permanent damage. I'm in my penultimate year now and I've passed everything, but interpreting was like hell to me, especially consecutive interpreting. I didn't dare relying on abbreviations and signs and I had a very hard time remembering what my lecturer said. I did pass but my English teacher already warned me for next year. The texts will be longer, more difficult and the native speakers will talk much faster.

Can I actually "learn" notetaking for consecutive interpreting? I keep thinking that I have to come up with a system but I don't really know how. I try to practice online but without much success. How can I pass for my "final" of interpreting with amnesia?


ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:28
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
Talk with MD Jul 18, 2011

First of all, I am sorry about your operation and your difficulties. Have you talked about this with your doctor, i.e. your neurologist and other specialties if necessary? If yes, what do they say?


Romina Eva Pérez Escorihuela
Local time: 04:28
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some tips... Jul 18, 2011

Dear Fabriziat,

I am so sorry for what I've read about your damage... but, at the same time, I congratulate you on continuing to study and doing what you like! GO ON!

I would like to help a bit...
Let me ask you sth first: when you say you do consecutive interpreting, do you actually refer to listening without note-taking? That kind of technique, at least here in Argentina, is called or known as "Memory". We just listen, remember and then, interpret into the target language.

If you are seeking to learn Consecutive Interpretation with note-taking, I would advise you to start practising listening to short parts. For example: take a video in youtube... listen to a sentence, then, PAUSE. Write down the main words; the ones you think are REALLY important. Nothing else. After listening to three or four sentences, stop and try to interpret those three or four sentences you've heard, alltogether, reading your notes. These notes help the interpreter to trigger the rest of the information in their memory.... but, if you are experiencing short-term memory failure, try to figure out and DEDUCE the text with those key words you wrote down...

I would also advise you to ask your doctor for further help to see if there is anything else you can do (or take...) to help you overcame the damage... are you taking specific medication or sth?

First-sight interpreting or translating is a great excercise, too. Just take a magazine or newspaper, whatever you like, and read aloud IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE. You will be "obliged" to do a simultaneous interpretation from the text you are reading, without stopping! This incredibly activates your mind, your memory and your reasoning.

BASIC: Do not start with complicated topics. Just take a video or a book on sth EASY, so as to warm up, and then, as soon as you feel more comfortable, just jump to specific topics.

I hope you find these tips useful, Fabriziat.... then please, let me know how you are doing, over here or via message...



Mariella Bonelli  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:28
Member (2004)
English to Italian
+ ...
Our brain... Jul 18, 2011

Dear Fabriziat,

I've read many interesting suggestions from our colleagues, useful also for anyone who wants to make experience and keep trained. I would just like to let you know - if nobody did it before - that our brain has great resources, especially in young people and in the time it will tend to find "other ways" to obtain the same result - memory. A person near me had a different but anyway disabling brain problem and I've noticed a slow but continous improvement. After 2-3 years the change was amazing. I know it may seem long, but who cares if you know that it can happen. So don't give up Fabriziat!

Buona fortuna


more information Jul 18, 2011

My doctor said I could do some exercises to boost my memory, but the thing is: my memory won't improve by doing those exercises (due to the permanent damage), it just won't deteriorate as fast as it would without those exercises. I don't really do any exercises, because I already study English and French in school and Arabic and Norwegian on own initiative. What's a better exercise for your memory than that?icon_razz.gif

We have to take notes during our consecutive interpreting course. We can't just listen, our teacher doesn't want us to. He wants us to have a good system for notetaking. The problem is that I don't have that and I don't succeed at finding a way to create one. I just get lost too easy. That's why I ordered this book "notetaking for consecutive interpreting" Hopefully that'll help me outicon_smile.gif. I haven't tried practicing sentence per sentence, perhaps I should try thaticon_smile.gif I always use the videos of "learning Special English VAO news" cause the native speakers speak very slow there. Unfortunately it's still too fast for me. I'm definitely going to try first-sight interpreting! I'll practice it on a daily basis.

Thanks for the replies so faricon_smile.gif I take meds against epilepsy but not for my memory (if those exist). I don't think it's worth taking medication since those always cause certain side-effects.

How long did it take before you were good at notetaking? Is it a skill that requires lots of patience?


Romina Eva Pérez Escorihuela
Local time: 04:28
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
It depends.... Jul 18, 2011

Dear Fabriziat,

It depends on the person...
It did take me quite a long time to begin to understand how to take notes.

At University we have two subjects during the last two years of the course of studies: Consecutive Interpretation I and II. I feel I really learnt to note-take at the beginning of Consecutive II... after one year!! and I tell you why: this is a difficult technique. You have to: 1) listen, 2) understand, 3) get the key words to write down, 4) continue doing 1-2-3 for a while, 5) read your notes, 6) understand your handwriting!!!!! 7) remember what you did not write down, 8) deduce and interpret.

it sounds heavy, doesn't it?
I find simultaneous interpretation much easier!! have you tried that?

So, it IS a matter of practice and patience... and keep your spirits up!! You will succeed! and if you find doing simultaneous interpretation much better than consecutive, don't worry about that!! Many interpereters decide not to do consecutiev interpretation, because they enjoy simultaneous more, or for many other reasons. You should not feel let down because of that.

Now I am a professor at University and I teach my studients how to develop their own technique. You just have to trust yourself. We are all different: what you find useful may not be for me, and vice-versa... My students do not evolve in the same way... some students learn faster than others, some others still cannot make it, but they are still trying.... and that's what really counts.

It is important for you to understand you have a special condition, so that you can take care of it. Great. But, remember: consecutive interpretation is hard for everybody at the beginning, so you are experiencing the same frustrations as sb who does not have your condition



Chiara Cherubini  Identity Verified
Member (2010)
German to Italian
+ ...
Notetaking and patience Jul 18, 2011

Hi Fabriziat,

let me say also that I really like the positive attitude you show against your problems and I wish you all the best and to become a great interpreter!

As regards notetaking, well.. you do need a lot of patience! I think it is pretty normal not having any system at the beginning and trying trying trying until you find the way that works for you. Books can give some ideas, but it is something very personal. To the other good suggestions you got, I can add maybe another small idea. At the very beginning of my studies, I tried to take notes while reading: I read a couple of sentences and then took notes, trying to reduce the notes to the real important stuff and leave out all the rest. At the beginning, I found it useful to do it while reading instead of listening, because it helped me to concentrate on the structure of the sentence and get also a structure into my notes. This way it is easier to practise at the beginning than while listening. And once your notes "work" this way, they will also work when you are listening!

Another good execise is also correcting your notes. Don´t get frustrated if they "were a mess", but go back and correct them with a red pen while listening/reading again the text. I found it very useful to develop better strategies.

I hope this can help you and good luck!



The Misha
Local time: 03:28
Russian to English
+ ...
Is it worth it? Jul 18, 2011

First off, let me join everyone else here and wish you good luck getting better. Life isn't fair, is it? I am by far not a physician, so I have no idea whether what you are asking is possible or not. Who knows? There was this Russian guy during the last big war that went back to flying his fighter plane after having had both his legs amputated, and just you look at some of the art autistic children make, or the stuff people do at Special Olympics. Anything is possible.

That said, you should be aware that this is a business, and a cutthroat business at that. Short of a miracle, you will always have to compete at a disadvantage. As a self-employed businessperson all my life long, I wouldn't advise anyone to do that.

The real question you should ask yourself is whether it is worth it. There are plenty of things to do in life.

Once again, sorry about your predicament and good luck.


[Edited at 2011-07-18 17:34 GMT]


Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:28
Italian to English
+ ...
You're remarkable Jul 18, 2011

First of all, I want to say how much I admire your perseverance and it's lovely that you're getting so much advice and support.
BUT, let's be realistic because we need to take an objective view here:

1) Interpreters are advised to have insurance and you may experience difficulty in obtaining this, and if you do obtain it, the cost could be prohibitive.

2) You may be required to produce regular certification stating you are fit to work, again a cost element and can you rely on being certified as such?

3) Interpreting is stressful as you're discovering in a classroom environment, now imagine a business situation or whatever.

I have every sympathy and you are clearly a remarkable young man but you need to re-evaluate.

There is success waiting for you, just not where you expected.



I'm realistic :) Jul 20, 2011

Hi thanks for the replies so faricon_smile.gif I just wanted to add that I am realistic and I don't have the intention of becoming an interpreter, I know my future lies elsewhere. But nonetheless, I want to become good at it and pass my final without any troubles. In the end, interpreting is a very very good, intense exercise to improve your language skills.

But I realize it's not worth the stress, I probably won't be able to compete with other interpreters. And I love translating, something I'm very good at. So I can still do something with my passionicon_smile.gif


Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
The language you use to write your notes Jul 25, 2011

When you are taking notes, you are doing it to help yourself remember and understand what the speaker said. I personally believe that it doesn't matter which language you write your notes in, as long as they help you remember and understand what the speaker said.

Sometimes, I take my notes in Spanish, and I write in English other times. It really depends on how it comes out.

That said, my advice to you is to take your notes in whichever language works best at the time.


Michael Grant
Local time: 16:28
Japanese to English
How about learning a Shorthand system? Jul 26, 2011

First, Fabriziat, hat's off to you!! Your positive attitude is truly an inspiration!

Second, you might want to consider learning shorthand as a way of capturing ideas down on paper in a faster way. There are literally dozens of shorthand systems that help you write faster, maybe one of them will work for you?

Wikipedia has a good article about shorthand and stenography; with a list of notable shorthand systems, here:

Just an idea...



Local time: 03:28
French to English
+ ...
Digital Voice Recorder (DVR) Oct 19, 2011

Fabriziat, as everyone else I admire and applaud your perseverance.

Have you tried working with a DVR? In my interpreting course, we were taught to use DVR's in consecutive to record the speaker, then when they are done speaking you hit play (playback starts instantly, you do not have to wait for it to rewind or anything) and then basically do simultaneous from that. They can cost anywhere between $50-$100.

Studies show that this method is better than note-taking. Check out this article:

I plan on doing this for my next assignment which will be consecutive.

Best of luck to you!


[Edited at 2011-10-19 20:45 GMT]


DVR Oct 19, 2011

jenbikkal, that's smart! I never thought of thaticon_smile.gif unfortunately our teachers don't want us to, they really want us to have a good note-taking system

lately we have to interpret videos (e.g. the news vids that you can find on the TV5 website), the images help my memory a lot, so that is a good thing.


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