Note-taking in Simultaneous

When you think of writing things down in simultaneous we usually think of writing down numbers or terms for our booth partner. But that is just one of the reasons to keep a pen and pad handy while working in simultaneous. 

So what can we usefully note down when working in simultaneous? 

1. Notes for your colleague

1.1 Numbers, dates, names

1.2 Terminology

Write them on a piece of paper in between the two of you, where the colleague can see it but is not disturbed by your writing it down.

– write big and clearly

– indicate (eg. with your finger) the note

– cross out each thing you’ve written down once it has gone by

Don’t 

– Don’t distract the colleague to show them what you’ve written, they’re busy!

– use symbols or abbreviations (that aren’t absolutely obvious)

– write down anything that you’re not sure of (or get it wrong)

2. Notes for yourself

2.1 Numbers, dates 1 

We often do numbers consecutively in simultaneous – we stop speaking, listen, write the number down and then read it out. 

It’s a technique many use but that has its limits when there are lots of numbers.

2.2 Numbers, dates 2 

It’s useful to keep numbers and dates visible on the page for future reference (later in the same speech or later in the same debate).

2.3 Names

– having a written version can help you work out what name really is (Egg not Hague)

– it’s quicker to read a name than to either reproduce it phonetically or try to “translate” the SL pronunciation of a name into TL pronunciation of the same name

– it’s useful to keep names visible on the page for future reference (later in the same speech or later in the same debate)

– also having a note means that you will pronounce the name consistently the next time it comes up

2.4 Long words

As with names it’s quicker and easier to read a long expression than to process it and/or fetch it from memory. So write them down and keep them visible.

eg. quantitative easing

For particularly difficult words you can even make the syllables or parts of the word clear to aid pronunciation

epi  demi  ological

ethylene    propylene     diene 

2.5 Grammatical agreements

Some grammatical or lexical items require agreement later in the sentence. If so then it’s useful to note the determining item to remind you later what you need to base agreement on. This reduces cognitive load.

– if

It’s not a great idea to start a sentence with “if” but if you have to, then jot it down on the page so that when the second clause comes you can start with a clear “then”, making the structure clear to your listener (and even yourself).

– lists

Sometimes a list might start “we suggest: ”. In English each list item now has to be an (-ing) form eg. we suggest applying…. For lists it’s useful to note either the “suggest” or the “-ing” so you get all subsequent items correct. 

eg. We suggest applying for residence permit at your local government office; making sure that all your employment papers are in good order and not dated more than 3 months previous to the application; and perhaps also consulting an immigration lawyer.

This is particularly useful when the grammar is different in the other language. In French for example you might use proposer as the translation of suggest. However proposerrequires de plus the infinitive

eg. nous proposons de faire or de and a noun as object nous proposons l’implementation de.

NB there is often a short pause before a list starts in English that will signal it to you. Alternatively as soon as you hear the second item in a list you write down your DETERMINING element, eg. – ING

2.6 The structure of the speech

If the speaker announces that they will make a number of points, or enumerates longish points as they go along it’s helpful to take a short note of that to give you an overview of the speech you are interpreting. 

eg. 

1. EU

2. past

3. flows

Similarly digressions can be indicated by noting the item that immediately preceded the digresssion plus an indication of the digression (eg. brackets or NB)

immigration  (      )

2.7 Context

Keeping a note of comparative information over the course of a speech, or who has said on the main issue over the course of a debate can be an extremely useful way of keeping an eye on the context in which each subsequent remark is made.

eg.  

FR      112m euro

DE      300m euro

UK      75m euro

or

S & D   against

EPP      for but… amendment 6

ECR      for

Greens against

Notes in Simultaneous, Andy Gillies 2020

Symboles et abréviations – Seleskovitch

The text below is taken from p54-55 of Pedagogie Raisonnee de l’Interpretation, by Lederer and Seleskovitch. Didier Erudition 2002.

This is the only book of its kind so far, written by two of the biggest names in the short history of interpreting and interpreter training. Originally written in 1989 the 2002 edition is also sponsored by the European Commission. It is also now available in translation as “A systematic approach to interpreter training”, Harmer, J.

Download the full work as a pdf

Pédagogie raisonnée de l'interprétation

Les symboles. Quelques signes sont très usités parmi les interprètes ; on les communiquera aux étudiants. Ils ont fait leurs preuves, soit comme passe-partouts : la flèche qui sert à relier, à indiquer les augmentations, les diminutions, les rapports, etc., soit comme termes répétitifs, la chaise symbolique pour chair, quelques-uns pour les liaisons : car, par conséquent, donc, etc. ou pour les oppositions : contre, négatif, etc. On en trouvera des exemples, avec de nombreuses indications sur la manière dont notent les professionnels, dans l’étude que D. Seleskovitch (1975) a consacrée à la prise de notes en interprétation consécutive. Par ailleurs, les principes exposés dans l’opuscule de J.F. Rozan (1956) restent toujours valables. 

On mettra en garde les étudiants contre l’élaboration de listes de symboles. Certains seraient tentés d’adopter une sorte de table de conversion qui, une fois bien maîtrisée et appliquée avec rigueur, fournirait une traduction qu’il n’y aurait plus qu’à lire. Rien ne serait plus dangereux car toute application machinale de correspondances (ici mot-signe-mot) conduirait à un littéralisme catastrophique. Rien ne s’oppose par contre à l’imagination de ceux qui traceraient une image pour retenir une idée, à condition qu’elle soit création instantanée. 

Les abréviationsOn attirera l’attention des étudiants sur les avantages et les inconvénients de l’utilisation d’abréviations. L’interprète de consécutive est toujours à court de temps. Il doit analyser le discours à mesure que celui-ci se déroule, il ne peut se permettre de prendre du retard à l’écriture. Il est donc pratique d’abréger. 

Toute une série de termes ont des abréviations comprises et acceptées de tous : pour noter les noms de pays, on pourra utiliser le symbole des plaques minéralogiques : pour Allemagne, DK pour Danemark, etc. Les unités de mesure ont toutes leurs abréviations courantes, km pour kilomètre, kwh pour kilowattheure. On aura recours aux symboles du tableau de Mendeleïev pour noter les éléments chimiques : O pour oxygène, Pu pour plutonium… 

La majorité des termes et des mots que l’on note n’ont cependant pas d’abréviations conventionnelles ; il faudra alors veiller à ne pas les rendre incompréhensibles en les abrégeant trop et à ne pas risquer d’utiliser pour un mot une abréviation qui pourrait aussi bien s’appliquer à un autre. Solution et soleil pourraient tous deux s’abréger en sol.L’expérience apprend à garder l’abréviation la plus courte pour le terme le plus fréquent dans le langage des conférences et réunions internationales, en l’occurrence pour solution. 

On apprendra à ajouter aux trois premières lettres d’un mot (manière la plus courante d’abréger), sa terminaison qui le distinguera d’un mot de même racine ou même d’un mot ayant le même segment initial : on écrira prod pour produit mais prodn pour production, prodé pour productivité.

Noting lists & working memory

The following is taken from Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting Andrew Gillies

In this extract Gillies explains how noting elements of a list in an order different to the order they are spoken can relieve the strain on working memory capacity.

Noting lists

You will hear a list in order: 1, 2, 3. You will find, however, that it is possible to relieve the strain on your short-term memory by noting 132. This is because, if you note 1 and 3 the moment you hear them, they never make it into your work- ing memory and therefore never burden it. All you have to do is remember 2 for a couple of seconds. This works with longer lists as well, of course, but the exact order is something you will have to practise and work out for yourself. At the same time, the elements of the list remain vertically aligned to one another, as described in Chapter 5 of Part I.

Example (McCulley)
temperatures could rise by nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

The effects on agriculture, water sources and energy would be disastrous if this were to happen.

This example could have been noted in the order shown the following notes. I have marked the chronological order in which these elements are noted like this – 1. The change in the order of noting elements in the list ( 1–3 ), as compared to the order in which they were spoken, is minor but is very effective in relieving excess strain on your memory.

What to note – Taylor-Bouladon

The following text is taken from by Valerie Taylor-Bouladon’s extremely useful book, Conference Interpreting – Principles and Practice, and was kindly sent in to this site by the author herself.

Most beginners tend to write down too much but with experience you will see that your memory is better than you think and a few clear notes are infinitely preferable to a whole page of notes written so fast you can’t read them back.

As to what you should note, W. Keiser suggests the following:

l. Always ideas, arguments, never just words. But write down all proper names, figures, titles, quotes.

2. Who speaks and about whom or what.

3. Tense of the action, i.e. present, past or future.

4. Whether the statement is negative, positive, interrogative or exclamatory.

5. Connections between ideas and arguments.

6. Emphasis and stress.

Notes should arranged vertically on the page, with indentations such as for new paragraphs to indicate new thoughts and a system of arrows and connecting signs.

What to note – Seleskovitch & Lederer

The ideas below are compiled from pages 50-51, 55 and 68 of Pedagogie Raisonnee de l’Interpretation, by Lederer and Seleskovitch.

Didier Erudition 2002. This is the only book of its kind so far, written by two of the biggest names in the short history of interpreting and interpreter training. Originally written in 1989 the 2002 edition is also sponsored by the European Commission. It is also now available in translation as “A systematic approach to interpreter training”, Harmer, J.

Download the full work as a pdf

Pédagogie raisonnée de l'interprétation

1. The ideas. The essence. A single symbol or word can represent an entire idea. 

2. Fulcra. Causality, consequence, links etc. and the relation of the ideas to one another in time. 

3. Transcodable terms. Words than must be repeated rather than deverbalised and interpreted. 

4. Numbers. Note the numbers immediately, interrupting whatever you are noting to note the number as they cannot be remembered from context and noted later as ideas can. 

5. Proper names. If you don’t know a name, note it phonetically and see if you can work out how to say it properly in your target language later. If you can’t then substitute a generic like “the UK delegate” rather than mangling the name. 

6. Technical terms. Specific to the context of the speech. 

7. Lists. Lists of words which are not integral parts of the sentences in which they are held overload the memory. So note them.

8. The first sentence of each new idea should be noted with particular care. This does not mean verbatim but with care. 

9. LAST sentence of the speech should be noted with particular care. 

10. Striking usage. If the speaker uses a word or expression that stands out he has probably used it deliberately and will want it to appear in the intepretation.

What to note -Jones

The following is taken from p41 of Roderick Jones’ fantastic book, Conference Interpreting Explained, (Routledge). You should buy the book and then I may be let off posting bits of it to this site.

To find out more about Roderick Jones, click here!!

2.2 What to note

The first thing to be noted should be the main ideas, first because they are the most significant elements of a speech, and secondly because they are the pillars of its structure. 

It is also important to systematically note the links between the different ideas as well to divide them very clearly. Another element which has to be clear is the point of view being expressed: the audience must immediately realize who is speaking. 

As far as verbs are concerned, there are two basic things which must appear in the notes : verb tenses, with special attention to conditional forms, and modal verbs, whose semantic role in the sentence is always of paramount importance.

Other fundamental data are numbers, dates and proper names, which must be noted accurately, being preferable in a good interpretation to miss some elements of another sentence than to get names or statistics wrong.

These are some of the basic needs in consecutive interpreting as regards note-taking.Of course, interpreters have their own styles, and they could note down almost everything, or just the main elements, if they trust their short-term memory. Anyway, noting down everything, without paying the proper attention to active listening, must be avoided at all costs.

Symbols by Matyssek

The following is a translation/summary of pages 224-228 of Matyssek’s Handbuch der Notizentechnik.

THe numbering is Matyssek’s. In the original you will also find references to examples of each point which are given elsewhere in Matyssek’s (500 page) work. You can find Matyssek’s Note-taking principles here

consecutive interpreting konsekutiv konsekutywne interprétation de conférence tłumaczenie konferencyjne Konferenzdolmetschen conference interpreting

Symbols basics, Matyssek

1. Guiding principles for the use of symbols should be simplicity, economy, ease of recognition because they are pictoral, clarity, unambiguity.

2. The symbol must be convincing both in form and meaning.

3. Where possible a symbol should be independent of any language.

4. Symbols that derive from a language should be derived from the mother tongue

5. Notes can be taken in the language of the interpreter’s choice.

6. A symbol should represent not just a word but a whole field of meaning (eg. think, consider, reflect, weigh up, mull).

7. A symbol should be such that it can be varied and developed to represent related concepts.

8. Symbols should be easily combinable with other symbols.

9. Basic symbols (for person, politics, economy, trade, industry, law etc) should be adaptable to create whole families of symbols.

10. Meaningful changes to basic symbols should only be made when necessary and according to a consistent method. 

a) adding a o to denote a person to a verb like disappear denotes that humans were the agent of the disappearance.

b) number, gender, tense and mode are all relevant parts of the message and should be noted when not obvious from context.

c) adjectives do not need to be noted with their agreements, though comparatives and superlatives should be noted.

d) verbs need not be conjugated in the notes unless it’s essential to capturing the sense.

e) past partiples need not be noted (unless absolutely necessary)

f) adding a raised d (denoting the present participle in German) is a good way to note some relative and conditional clauses.

g) Nouns from verbs (with -ung suffix in German) can be noted by adding the symbol representing that ending to the verb stem or symbol denoting it.

h) abstract nouns from verbs (with -heit suffix in German) can be noted by adding a symbol denoting that ending /  to the verb stem or symbol denoting it.

i) To express the concept of leading, guiding, standing-at-the-head-of, stretch the symbol upwards or move part of it upwards relative to the rest.

j) Pronouns need only be noted if they are essential to meaning.

Symbols guidelines

Symbols are great….but it is worth abiding by a few basic principles to make sure they HELP rather than HINDER.

A “symbol” is anything, a mark, sign, letter or short word, used to represent a thing, or group of synonymous concepts. 


Why… use symbols?– they are quicker and easier to write than words

– they eliminate source language interference (calque)….because they represent ideas not words 
How… to use symbols? – symbols should be clear and unambiguous

– prepare symbols in advance, don’t improvise mid-speech and save much heart-ache. 

– consistent. If “E” is “energy” today, then let it stay that way. Find another symbol for “environment”

– make them organic….from one symbol can grow many other related symbols (see below) 
What… to note with symbols?– ideas that recur….ie. think, discuss, propose, agree, decide. These symbols can be used regardless of the meeting topic.

– and/or specific technical terminology encountered during meeting preparation. These symbols will be used once and discarded.

Splitting ideas

“The first rule of consecutive interpreting is that the real work must already have been done when you start reading back your notes: the text, its meaning and the links within it, must have been perfectly understood.”

Jean-Francois Rozan

The beginning of note-taking?

This page describes two exercises that are very useful when you start learning to take notes. The exercises are designed to lead you towards structured notes, but will also require you to analyse the source speech properly. They will also promote memorisation (because of the better analysis you do).

What is an idea?

For the purposes of note-taking we’ll use Subject Verb Object as the basis of each idea. That is the smallest group that tells us Who Does What. It is also usually the smallest useful unit in language.
For more about different definitions of “idea” in interpreter training follow this link.

Exercise 1 – highlight SVO

This Stabilo advert shows us a great example of how to fish the most important elements – the Subject, Verb and Objet, out of a longer text.

Let’s go through the speech transcript below and see if we can find, and highlight, the SVO groups. (The text below is a speech given by Australian Minister David Little Proud in August 2020.)

Look, over 100 years ago our forefathers put on a map lines that formatted our states and since then, over that 100 years, regional and rural Australia has evolved past those – we become integrated in terms of agricultural production systems, in terms of our community, in terms of our healthcare. And what we’ve seen from COVID-19 is that some of the arbitrary restrictions being placed on regional and rural Australia by the states have had serious impacts on that integration.

Exercise 2 – note SVO

This second exercise is to go through the speech transcript and see if you can find, and then note on a separate sheet of paper, the SVO groups.

Look, over 100 years ago our forefathers put on a map lines that formatted our states and since then, over that 100 years, regional and rural Australia has evolved past those – we become integrated in terms of agricultural production systems, in terms of our community, in terms of our healthcare. And what we’ve seen from COVID-19 is that some of the arbitrary restrictions being placed on regional and rural Australia by the states have had serious impacts on that integration.

Forefathers… put… lines…

You’re probably thinking that if you made those notes you wouldn’t remember the rest of that longish sentence is. Interestingly when you choose what to note, and what not to note you remember far more of what you didn’t note down. Also remember this is just the beginning. As you learn more about note-taking, and about how your memory works, you can add more detail into your version of the speech.

The recall process might go something like this…. “Forefathers”, how long ago? 100 years… “put lines”, where? On a map? So? Lines on maps delineate countries, or here states. And so on

Rural Australia… evolved…

We… integrated… agriculture & community & healthcare…

Restrictions… impact… integration…

You’ll notice there are several objects in the second to last SVO group. See verticality for more on how to deal with that.

Have a look at what that might have looked like as a set of notes

Remember these notes are not the final product. This is very early stage note-taking and there are many improvements to come, eg. Abbreviations and symbols.

Margins in consecutive note-taking

Many colleagues use a margin on the left hand side of the page when taking notes in consecutive. Be it real or virtual, a margin can be a very useful part of note-taking technique.

WHY use a margin?

– when reading your eyes automatically come back to the left hand side of page to start next idea (a la typewriter) 

– words in margin STAND OUT 

WHAT do we note in the margin?

1.    Links

The table below represents a note-pad onto which we have drawn a margin near the left-hand side of the page (and a horizontal line across the page after the “idea” – see splitting ideas) links are noted on same level on the page as the Subject, for example 

2.    Contrasting the actions of two subjects

    ….the EU is doing this, the US is doing that…. 

3.    Structural markers

 paragraphs||
 list numbering1…..2…..
 digressions {   }
 question marks ?

4.   Dates 

5.    Anything important ! 

REMEMBER…….the margin does not have to be real. Some colleagues actually draw a line on every page (BEFORE the meeting starts to save time while working) , others simply imagine it but note the elements above on the left. Some colleagues circle these elements to highlight their importance.