Consecutive note-taking

Uploaded by Lourdesaib on 28.06.2011

Hello, I'm Dick Fleming,
I used to work for the European Commission
as an English-language interpreter
and also as an interpreter trainer.
Now, you probably recognize this, even if you aren't yet a professional interpreter.
Yes, indeed, it's
a consecutive interpretation notepad.
I'm going to talk to you about both,
in other words, about consecutive interpretation
and also about the notepad.
Perhaps I should start by defining briefly what consecutive interpretation is;
it's interpretation involving
the interpreter being in the same room as speaker,
listening to what the speaker is saying - and probably taking notes
on a pad like this,
and then, when the speaker has finished,
only then does the interpreter deliver
his or her interpretation.
Now, I have to say that I've used
a good few of these during my career.
In the early stages, decades ago,
I used it in small technical meetings
which tended at the time to be conducted in consecutive mode.
But even later, particularly on trips outside Brussels,
I used to use it when
interpretation was required just from the local language into English
and very often in a situation where we were
miles from the nearest simultaneous interpretation facilities, anyway,
such as on an ostrich farm in north Greece.
And in any case I always used to carry
one of these with me
just in case the--
the local head of the wine growers' association
- having had perhaps a little much of his own produce -
decided to stagger to his feet and deliver a speech.
So you could say that the pad and the pen
are the tools of the trade of the consecutive interpreter.
Although in an emergency
you can always grab a menu and scribble on the back of that,
and in certain cases you might even be able to do a certain amount of interpreting
without anything to write on at all
- a bit like a trapeze artist performing without a safety net.
But that's all right for the trapeze artist, because
he may want to display bravura
to show how good he is,
but in our case performing without a notepad is rather pointless
and in any case if you were doing it just to show off
I would say it's even unprofessional.
So the notepad is a useful tool
especially when the speeches get longer
and more rambling
than the perfectly constructed little ditties
served up by teachers of consecutive interpretation on interpreting courses.
And they do this
wisely, I think, because what they're trying to do with these
perfectly constructed speeches
is to get the students to develop their powers of
and analysing,
and they're quite right to deliver such
perfectly formed speeches
in order to get the students
to develop these skills even before they've started taking notes,
because when they start taking notes
notes could be
- and very often are - a distraction
from the basic skills
of listening, understanding and analysing.
Because the key to successful interpreting,
including consecutive interpreting,
is up here [points at head].
I would say it's here [speaker's ear], here [speaker's brain]
and here [speaker's mouth], and not here [notepad].
If i had my way, in fact, I think I would put
a public health warning
on the consecutive notepad,
and it would be something like this: it would be
That would be in capital lettters, and underneath I would put
"Please read the instructions carefully before use."
So, what would be on the list of
instructions for use?
The first point would be,
what matter is here [brain], not here [notepad].
Now, what matters, as i said before, is listening,
and analysing: three things.
And point two:
don't write down anything until you've done all these three things.
If you write something down that you haven't understood,
the chances are it'll be just as incomprehensible later,
when it comes to reading your notes,
and also, if you start noting too early,
you probably will be noting down something that you haven't fully
understood or analysed.
And you may also be writing fast and furiously - so much so
that you're no longer listening properly to the speaker.
You may also be writing too many words
directly from the original speech
- words which it will be very difficult to get away from when it comes to
reformulating naturally in your own language.
And you may not even be able to decipher all the scribblings on the page later.
As a result
your interpretation could well be
owing to an insufficent grasp of the speaker's thought processes,
and unconvincing,
since you'll groping around in a desperate bid to find inspiration
from what are after all rather sloppy notes.
Now, it sounds bad, doesn't it?
So I think we'd better get back
to what are hopefully constructive points in our list of instructions.
Point 3:
note down the main ideas
and the links between them,
that is, the structure
of the speaker's arguments,
rather than the words he or she has used.
In this way your notes will be a record
of the process of analysis you are carrying out here, in your head,
and will also be a useful memory jogger later,
when it comes to reformulating the speech.
Another advantage of consigning the structure to paper
is the fact that you'll be able to concentrate even more on what the speaker
is saying at any particular moment,
in the knowledge
that you have a fool-proof
safety net
to fall back on
if your memory fails.
It's a bit like a sensible
trapeze artist who has decided to have a safety net,
and who can thus concentrate on what he is doing
in the knowledge
that he's going to be ok even if things go wrong.
Fourth point:
note-taking is not an end in itself:
none of the delegates in the meeting
care at all what you write down
on your notepad.
All that counts is the quality of the interpretation.
And a fifth point:
the way you take notes is a highly personal affair.
Teachers of interpretation like to give some basic tips
about what and how to note,
things that seem to work for them
and other profession interpreters, and they're quite right to do so.
Nevertheless, it's up to you to decide how to take your notes,
since our minds all work in different ways
and this is bound to affect
what we note down -
which may be what
we, as individuals, tend to forget -
and also,
how we note it down
is what suits us best.
And this brings me on, finally,
if I have time, to deal with a couple of frequently asked questions.
"Should I note down words or symbols?"
Well, it depends: it depends on the situation and it depends on you.
Words can be very useful,
especially if they're keywords encapsulating the basic ideas,
they can even be necessary when you need to
quote what somebody has said later
But symbols can be very quick to jot down
and have the advantage of jumping out at you from the page,
and if you use them regularly
they're like faithful friends.
Samely, "In which language should I take my notes?"
In the source language,
in the target language,
or in a mix of the two?
Again I would say, whatever works for you.
I know interpreters who always note in English
because it's shorter,
even if they're interpreting from Macedonian into German.
And I do, too, but of course I only ever worked into English, so it came naturally,
but also the fact that I was noting in
the target language
enabled me to reformulate more easily.
So that's it -
you've had your warning.
But if you follow your teachers' instructions
and use your notepad properly
you should sooner or later
find it a help rather than a hindrance and come to love it like I did.
Thank you.
Captions courtesy of AIB, Agrupación de Intérpretes de Barcelona.