How can note-taking improve your interpreting skills?

April 5, 2017 11:52 am

Just imagine you are a consecutive interpreter, which means you possess an appropriate level of the target and source language, knowledge of the surrounding world and the subjects of speech, good memory and other vital language skills like listening, understanding, speaking and grammar. During your interpreting career you are obliged to follow long speeches and interpret them in detail as quickly as possible. Interpretation envisages making a rendition of speech rather than a summary, which involves a lot of stress – especially when you are a beginner interpreter and you are not aware about some useful principles of notation that help you memorise. In this post you will read about some interpretation strategies that may help reduce the time of the speech memorisation.

How note taking provides you with interpreting 1

Abbreviations and symbols system

One of the best practices is using the symbol that represents an idea instead of a word. Thanks to jotting down symbols and abbreviations, interpreters can make a perfect draft for later rendition from the source language into the target one, as well as for transferring the meaning of the speech. One of the techniques is to avoid using double consonants, even though some or all vowels are missing. While using the method presented beneath, interpreters should not omit the key information from the speech. For example, write “cmte” instead of “committee”, “hstry” instead of “history”. Another very useful method is taking benefit from abbreviations, which means omitting endings, using only the first vowels and double letters, or first two or three letters of certain words to note down information. The best advice is not to overuse abbreviations and symbols at the beginning of the interpreter’s career – especially when you are not so familiar with them and you can forget what they stand for. So, you can try to add a new abbreviation only when you know the former ones.

AbbreviationOriginal word

(Source: “Interpretation Techniques and Exercises”, James Nolan)

You can take advantage of using symbol “x” for the word ”time” and link it with other symbols to make noting down time expressions quicker and easier to be remembered.

AbbreviationOriginal  word
xxmany times, often
xx+many times more
xx-many times less
xtxfrom time to time,   occasionally
3x-/three times less than

(Source: “Interpretation Techniques and Exercises”, James Nolan)

If you would like to negate something, just put “no OK” instead of “OK” which stands for “approved”.

Let’s have a look at the most useful abbreviations and symbols

Create an own notation system

The main goal during notation is to establish your own best practice, as everyone has completely different personalities and ways of acquiring and retrieving something from memory, so it is better to adjust the aforementioned basic principles and develop an own notation system. The common practice is to keep your notes brief, clear and accurate, and just follow the rule of “economy of words”. There are some types of information from the speech that have to be jotted down, like proper names, numbers, dates, links and separations between ideas, tenses of verbs, modal verbs, figures, points of view, and complete lists. You should also remember that there is not enough time to jot down every sentence, so concentrate on putting down the most vital ideas rather than taking down whole sentences. While taking notes, in general you can omit articles, exclamations, unimportant prepositions, adjectives and adverbs. It is important to focus on the overall comprehension of the speech and grasp the most important things to transfer to the participants. So, it is highly recommended to take notes only in the target language to reduce the time-consuming process of translation to a minimum. Thanks to this practice, interpreters can avoid making mistakes in the grammar structures, vocabulary or make some funny calques or misinterpretations.

Watch a video about consecutive note-taking:

Consecutive note-taking part I

Consecutive note taking part II

Written by Aleksandra Święcicka. Journalist, web editor and social media expert. Communication Trainee at TermCoord.

Edited by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. She is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).


  • Nolan, James (2005) Interpretation Techniques and Exercises, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. Available at: (Accessed 05 April, 2017)

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