What’s inside a consecutive interpreter’s notebook

 | Interpretation best practices

Have you ever wondered what consecutive interpreters are scribbling as they listen to a speech they are about to reproduce in another language? You might be surprised to know that interpreters devise their own unique system of note-taking, based on principles which were established especially for the interpreting profession.

The high art of consecutive interpretation

Consecutive interpreting notes are arranged on the page almost like a semantic mind map.Consecutive interpretation is an art, a highly skilled exercise. Indeed, good consecutive interpreters are a rare breed. Real professionals work on meaning, not on words, conveying the intent of the original message in another language. Hence, note-taking in short-hand form isn’t useful to them.

Instead, consecutive interpreters jot down a unique, language-neutral combination of abbreviations and symbols that help them reconstruct their translation two, five or ten minutes after the original was delivered. What they’re doing is recreating the message in a different language by combining their memory and their notes.

Every interpreter has a unique system of notes with abbreviations and symbols that he or she has developed through training and practical assignments. Hence, it is virtually impossible for an interpreter to decipher notes taken by a colleague.

Consecutive interpreters and secret codes

Unlike shorthand, consecutive interpreting notes are arranged on the page almost like a semantic mind map so that the interpreter can perceive, digest and sum up content at a glance rather than having to translate words and sentences sequentially, as with shorthand.

Next time you see a consecutive interpreter scribbling away, remember that she or he is not taking shorthand notes but drawing on a secret code of hieroglyphic symbols and abbreviations. This code serves as raw material to be reconstructed and delivered in a different language.

To find out whether consecutive interpretation is suitable for your next meeting, contact us.

Or visit this page to learn more about the different types of interpretation.

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