Reading back your notes

The following is taken from Roderick Jones’ fantastic book, Conference Interpreting Explained. It is the best little bit of text about presentation in consecutive interpreting that you will find and is reprinted without the kind permission of St Jeromepublishers. You should buy the book and then I may be let off posting bits of it to this site.

Conference Interpreting Explained. Roderick Jones. 1998. ISBN 1-900650-09-6

It may seem strange to even mention how to read back notes. However, interpreter should be aware of the risk of communicating less well because of looking too much at their notes and not enough at their audience. This risk is particularly great if the intepreter takes relatively complete notes. Interpreters, like public speakers, must learn the art of glancing down at their notes to remind them of what they are to say next and then delivering that part of the text while looking at the audience. The clearer the notes, both in content and lay-out, the easier this will be.. And the clearer the ideas in the interpreter’s mind, the more cursory the glances down at the notes can be. 

     There is a specific technique that interpreters can try to develop, and which can be compared to a pianist reading music while playing but not sight-reading. The pianist who has practised a piece is in a similar situation to the consecutive interpreter: essentially they know what they want to play but the sheet-music is there to remind them. the pianist looks at the opening bars and then starts playing, and continues reading ahead of the notes they are playing, their eyes on the music always being a little ahead of their fingers on the keyboard. Similarly the interpreter should look at the first page of their notes then start speaking while looking up at their audience. As the interpreter moves towards the end of the passage they have looked at, they glance down at their notes again to read the next passage. In other words they do not wait until they finished one passage to look again at their notes, which would mean that the interpretation would become jerky, reading then speaking, reading then speaking. Rather the interpreter, while still talking, is already reading ahead, preparing the next passage, thus providing for a smooth, uninterrupted and efficient interpretation.