note taking for interpretation in interpreting
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Note-taking for interpretation /in interpreting. “ A sharp memory is not as dependable as a broken pen” 好记性不如烂笔头 —— A Chinese old saying.

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note taking for interpretation in interpreting
Note-taking for interpretation /in interpreting

“A sharp memory is not as dependable as a broken pen”

好记性不如烂笔头—— A Chinese old saying

For many an interpreter, “note-taking” is said to be a “necessary evil”. It is regarded as an “evil” (especially by beginner) because it calls for a certain amount of distribution of attention or of the splitting of the power of attention and that, at the initial stage of training, might interfere in one’s listening. However, it is generally accepted as being necessary, and indeed essential, especially in case when the original speaker abruptly refers to a long series of figures or a long string of proper names of persons and places, or keeps on speaking for five or ten minutes.

a two special features
a Two Special Features

Generally speaking, there are two special features in note-taking for the purpose of interpreting.

First, the purpose of note-taking in interpreting is to supplement memory efficiency, so as to ensure accuracy in work. This means, though highly necessary, the importance of note-taking should not be overemphasized. An interpreter must realize from the very beginning of his training that it is always memory on the basis of correct comprehension that plays the major role in ensuring accuracy in interpreting, not note-taking.

Second, the interpreter’s notes are essentially individual in character. This is primarily because the interpreter’s notes, which are a means to supplement his memory efficiency, are intended exclusively for immediate use by the interpreter concerned. The ability to keep remembrance of what is said varies from person to person. Many veteran interpreters are of the opinion that only practical experience and repeated experiments can show a given interpreter what type of notes will be best suited for him or her. So there is ample room for the beginners to bring their own initiatives into full play in this respect.
b some practical hints
b Some Practical Hints

The practical points concerning note-taking in interpreting cannot claim to be comprehensive but they are relevant and worthy of attention.

1)Write as few words or symbols as possible. An interpreter should always concentrate on listening (for comprehension and transference). And, limited by the very little time at his disposal, he must practice the maximum economy in words in note-taking. Each word (or symbol, or sign) usually represents a key word or a sense group or an important formulation, etc.
2) Better take notes in the target language. In order to facilitate the listening-transference-speaking process, it is preferable to solve the problem of transference while the notes are taken. That is why most of the professional interpreters believe that it seems to be best to do it this way. Of course, it depends on the individual interpreter. He/she might use a combined way in both source language and the target language or even in source language only.
3) See to it that the notes are logical and legible. The interpreter should be able to make a logical emphasis of the speech and to take notes accordingly. This seems to be particularly helpful in consecutive interpretation and also applicable to simultaneous interpretation. In this way, the speaker’s flow or sequence of ideas can be better grasped and noted and therefore better interpreted. You are safe to avoid making some grave mistakes. At the same time, the interpreter must make sure that his notes are legible. They must be easy to read.
For the interpreter cannot afford the time to hesitate or meditate before deciphering them. Besides, notes should be written in two columns of 2 or 3-inch width in a pad. It is always advisable to draw two slant lines to mark the end of a long paragraph, or a long chunk of speech, to avoid some unnecessary confusion. For the sake of legibility, one should use only those limited number of signs or symbols that are very familiar to him lest he might forget their meanings if he uses too many a time. Possible examples are acronyms, abbreviations, arrows, and reference lines.
examples for practical hints of note taking
Examples for practical hints of note-taking:
  • 用简笔汉字和英文缩写(common abbreviations):中,大,小,上,下,来,去等。UN, UK, USA, WTO, BOT, JVs, SOEs, GDP, CEO, VIP, AIDs, SARS, IT, GNP, etc.
  • 标点符号:? 疑问,冒号表示讲话人与内容之间的关系
  • 数学符号:=,-,≥,≤,∵因为,∴所以
  • 箭头符号:↑up上升,↓down下降,→寄往←
  • 否定或强调:×否定, √肯定
  • 数字与字母:1,2,3; Ⅰ,Ⅱ,Ⅲ; 1),2),3); a, b, c; A, B, C
  • 货币符号:$, £, €, RMB¥, Japan¥
c note taking practice
c Note-taking Practice

Note that the interpreter’s foremost concern should be concentrating on listening to grasp the idea of the original speaker, and on this basis, to complete the listening- transference-speaking process speedily and accurately. Note-taking, though very important, plays a supplementary role in this process.

1) Offer students some choices, short paragraphs three times and ask students to reduce their number of words. The teacher should demonstrate the notes on the blackboard.


Mr. speaker, I think it is deplorable that the Premier has gone on a trip to Europe. Not only is the timing for such a trip wrong, it is too expensive. Furthermore, I understand he is now planning to go on to America. This will also turn out to be an absolute waste of money.

i. h 1: OK Pr→EurOnlyt + dear+/1: → US too waste $

ii. h OK →Eur∵t + dear1: → US waste $

“h” stands for speaker/chairman; $ 表示钱,↙表示连接


A marked increase has been recorded in productivity, exports have risen accordingly and so has the turnover. This has led to an increase in profits, but the amount of tax paid.

↑ Procty

∴ Ex ↗too


∵ + profits

+ tax pd

Meaning can be divided into three layers.


厦门是一座港口城市,是中国的经济特区,现在有三资企业1876家,境外企业代表机构847家,境外金融机构15家。工业产品中45%是出口的,同时也进口了许多原材料、技术和设备。 厦门还在境外办了89家企业,与世界142个国家和地区有实质性的经贸往来,并同新西兰的惠灵顿、英国加的夫、美国巴尔的摩、日本佐世保,菲律宾宿务市、马来西亚槟岛市等结为友好城市。这些都说明厦门经济发展逐步与世界经济接轨。

X port SEZJV 1876外企 847外F 15工业产 45% →← Raw, Tec, eq //

X → 外89企+142 国,地 实 经 exch+ NZ Wel UK Card Jap 佐Phil 宿 马 槟X E发 → 世 E 接轨

try it yourself
Try it yourself:
  • First offer some explanations, then give some new words and similar words.
  • Second, make use of the notes and then based on the notes do the transference/reproduction.
  • Third, the teacher writes the notes on the blackboard to demonstrate the way to do it.
  • Fourth, students compare their notes and discuss.
  • Materials for note-taking exercise, see Listening and Note-taking .