Note Taking and the Power of Mind Mapping in Consecutive Interpreting

Note Taking and the Power of Mind Mapping in Consecutive Interpreting


By Ni Luh Windiari

written in 2012

This article is also posted on Academia and another blog of TranslationPapers Bali 

1. Consecutive Interpreting

Interpreting is a form of translation in which the first and final rendition in another language is produced on the basis of a one-time presentation of an utterance in a source language. (Kade cited in Pochhacker, 2004:11)

Unlike translation, interpreting is a spontaneous activity. The interpreter should concentrate well during the task to be able to receive and understand the incoming message and then express the meaning in the target language. During the process of interpreting, the interpreter has to listen carefully, understand the message, remember it and think fast and reproduce the translation soon. There is no time to consult any dictionary. These overlapping series of cognitive processing activities require high level of concentration.

There are four modes of interpreting; liaison, consecutive, simultaneous and whispering interpreting. Consecutive interpretation allows the interpreter to produce their interpretation right after the speaker finishes his/her utterance. Meanwhile, simultaneous interpretation takes place during and even in the same time period as the original speech. Consecutive interpreting gives chances to the interpreter to take note and this is very necessary in the interpreting process. Some pieces of information like numbers, proper nouns, and any complicated information which are impossible to be remembered all together had better be noted. The interpreter has their own way to make a note. Usually, when there are more than two working languages, an installation for either simultaneous or consecutive interpretation should be provided. In the latter case, one language will be consecutively interpreted in the room itself and the others from booths. The speaker does not have to talk slowly, as normal speed is better for comprehension. Consecutive interpreting is recommended if accuracy is of top priority.

Qualified interpreters should have a language competence both in the source and target language. This is the most important point. Besides, they should also care about the code ethics in interpreting. The knowledge about the subject matter is very important. Interpreting in certain topics like scientific, economic, legal, cultural, and any other special topics require the knowledge about those related fields. There are many terminologies that the interpreter should know. No matter how brilliant the interpreters are, if they don’t know the terms, they will find some difficulties. Therefore, it is good to get to know the topic or if possible the copies of material prior to the work. Preparation and experience will contribute almost sixty percent of confidence. To the interpreters, especially the consecutive ones as sometimes they need to speak in front of the people (they are not in the booth like in the case of simultaneous interpreters) it will be much helpful for them to have the confidence in order not to get stuck.

On the day of the work, the interpreters will feel the tense. The overlapping series of cognitive process require high level of concentration. In this case the interpreter should have the techniques to support themselves. The tense and the loads will affect the cognitive process. Memory plays a very important role. In case the speakers talk a lot with loads of specific information, note taking will be very helpful. The interpreters should know the note-taking techniques in interpreting which are discussed in the following section.


2. Note Taking and the Power of Mind Mapping in Consecutive Interpreting

2.1 Note Taking in Consecutive Interpreting

Seleskovitch (1978) cited inSantiago(2004) explains that during the process of interpretation, there is a lot of information that is registered to the interpreters’ short term memory. If the interpreters do not do anything with this information, it will soon disappear. This is one of the reasons why the interpreters discard the form of the source text. Smith (1985) quoted in Santiago (2004) states that, “Short term memory has a very limited duration.  We can remember six or seven items only as long as we give all of our attention to them” (Smith, 38).  If an interpreters try to retain the form of a source utterance their short-term memory it will be quickly filled with individual lexical items, which may not even compose a full sentence.  If the interpreter then attempts to find a corresponding lexical item in the target language for each of the source language forms in their short-term memory all of their attention will be wasted on translating these six items rather than attending to the incoming message, as Smith points out, “as long as we pay attention to the short-term memory we cannot attend to anything else” (Smith, 38).

Hanh (2006) sums up the advantages of employing note taking techniques in consecutive interpreting as follows:

“Firstly, notes improve concentration; prevent distraction, thus facilitating the reception and analysis of the speech. Secondly, notes help the interpreter relieve the memory. Thirdly, as mnemonic, notes activate the memory of the interpreter with cues or signals that call up the information in the speech. With notes, the main ideas, the secondary elements and the links among them become clear and easier for the interpreter to visualize. Finally, notes can also be used to highlight missing details, inconsistencies within the speech and anything implausible that needs attention latter. Thus notes play an important part in consecutive interpreting.


2.2 How Mind Mapping Works in Note Taking

Different people have different ways of thinking; this is due to the fact that the brain works in different ways. Our thinking and reasoning follow a structure that is personal to us. There are certain “programs” loaded in our consciousness. According to experts in mind mapping, these programs are like our “natural thinking software”. The brain works according to certain basic principles, and we can use mind maps to take advantage of them to improve our creativity and memory.

Humans are born with special “brain-programs” to be able to learn and memorize everything they experience during their lifetime. We have one “brain-program” to remember special occasions, one program that remembers pictures, one that remembers structures, etc. The fantastic thing about mind mapping is that it uses these existing “brain-programs” and refines them. Mind mapping simply optimizes the power that you already have in your mind. Therefore, mind mapping is one of the very best methods to optimize one’s learning capacities and understanding of how the elements of complex structures are connected (Ingemann).

Now we proceed to the relation between mind mapping and note taking in interpreting. Mind mapping as mentioned above is the technique to optimize the power that we already have in our mind. The question is HOW. Then we shall see how the mind mapping techniques work in consecutive interpreting.

Once the speaker starts speaking, the interpreter should register the information to their brain. The information in their head is like a map which is not yet arranged. Then, they should arrange the information and organize them fast in their mind and write it down in their note. It is of course impossible to write down all the information in words due to the limited time. The interpreters should write down the main points only and connect one event or category to another. The use of abbreviation will help. There is no such a must rule in abbreviation. It is up to the interpreters; they have their own way in managing with abbreviations.

Consecutive interpreting deals with memorizing more information compared to the simultaneous one. Accuracy is of top priority because when the speaker pauses the interpreter will take turn to produce the interpretation and the audience will clearly hear the interpretation without intervention from another speaker. In this case the interpreter should remember the message and organize them well. And the mind mapping will play an important role in this kind of situation.

After reading about mind mapping tips from Ingemann, this paper tries to connect mind mapping steps with note taking in consecutive interpreting. The followings are the steps worth a try:

  1. Relax your mind.
  2. Register the information from the speaker and concentrate well. Do not let all other things distract you. Focus is a must.
  3. Recognize the main point of the utterances, and write it down fast in short (can be by abbreviating them or just write some important words in the limited time). It is impossible for the interpreters to write long sentences. That will be a waste of time. Some interpreters make a note in the target language and some others in the source language and translate it directly while they are producing the interpretation and taking a look at their note for some time. Others mix the languages (SL and TL) in their note. We shall choose which one we feel convenient with. Sometimes, the interpreters may get stuck retrieving the information from their memory about the equivalent of a certain word in TL. If this happens, it is necessary to just write the SL and when the time comes to give the interpretation and we still forget, just use descriptive sentences.
  4. As soon as the next sentence uttered by the speaker, jot down the other and supporting points.
  5. Then, draw lines to connect the points.
  6. Remember to note the specific information like numbers. Date, address, proper nouns etc.

We have discussed why note taking is important, the advantages and the steps in note taking. We also have discussed about the power of mind mapping in note taking. However, we should remember that every theory needs a practice as the saying: practice makes perfect. Theories may be different from reality. Therefore the more we practice, the better the result will be.

3. A Review on the Practice of Consecutive Interpreting in Translation Class

This section reviews the practice of interpreting conducted by Translation students of Udayana University Class of 2010conducted in March and April 2011There are eight groups and each group consists of three people . The mode of interpreting used is consecutive and almost all members of the groups did note taking during the interpretation process. The use of note taking was proven to be very beneficial since human has limited ability to do multi tasks at once which include registering information, comprehending the meaning, arranging / mapping that information, thinking about the lexical choice while remembering another message, connecting it with the previous message (when needed) and producing the interpretation.

The information such as numbers, date, proper names and any other difficult and complicated messages are very needed to be noted in consecutive interpreting. Every student has his/her own ways in doing note taking. This is related to how they process the information in their brain. Some people are born with a good ability to memorize; some are born with a good analysis. The combination of both would be very helpful. As stated above, mind mapping will enhance the power of brain in arranging the information in our mind. From the practices, not all the students knows about the theory of mind mapping but all of them could do note taking. Some who know about mind mapping may find easier way in note taking.

From the practices conducted in the class by the eight groups, some important points are noted. First, when producing the interpretation we pay attention to the language style. Recognize the audience and adjust the language style and formality with them. The use of slang is avoided in formal settings. Second, when producing the interpretation, eye contact to the audience is necessary. Third, in case the speaker mentions a terminology but doesn’t clearly explain it and if we know about it, we can give the audience a brief information as long as the additional information that we give is not confusing and is not contradicting. The interpreter may give some additional information for the sake of making the interpretation clearer. As long as it doesn’t create misunderstanding and confusion, it is acceptable.


4. Conclusion and Suggestion


As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, interpreting is not an easy task to do. It requires a complex knowledge, skills, and experience.  Note taking in consecutive interpreting is important and helpful because it helps the interpreting during the work. It helps the interpreters remember certain information and organize their interpretation. The tense, and loads mixed with the overlapping cognitive process in the interpreters’ brain require them to use sufficient techniques according to the level of difficulty of the topic.

In the note taking techniques, mind mapping plays a very important part. It will help the information in our brain flow well. Much information which is not arranged well in our brain will confuse our system and of course we will spend much energy to deal with this confusion. Interpreting is a tiring job; we have to use our energy efficiently.

Some suggestions on consecutive interpreting especially for the students in translation class are:

  1. It is good to know that mind mapping is important in note taking in consecutive interpreting and try it.
  2. When producing the interpretation, pay attention to the language style. Recognize the audience and adjust the language style and formality with them. The use of slang is avoided in formal settings.
  3. When producing the interpretation, eye contact with the audience is necessary.
  4. In case the speaker mentions a terminology but doesn’t clearly explain it and if we know about it, we can give the audience a brief information as long as the additional information that we give is not confusing and is not contradicting.
  5. Focus is a must in interpreting. Once we get loss, it may affect to the next information in the case where the previous information relates with the next .
  6. Relax our mind during the work and don’t let other things distract our concentration.
  7. Apart from the language competence that the interpreters should have, they should also care about the code ethics in interpreting.
  8. The knowledge about the subject matter is very important. Therefore, it is good to get to know the topic or if possible get the copies of material prior to the work.
  9. Preparation and experience will contribute almost sixty percent of confidence.
  10. The last but not least, practice makes perfect. The more practice, the better the interpretation will be.


Hanh, Pham Hong. 2006. Note-Taking in Consecutive Interpreting.HanoiUniversity of Foreign Studies

Hatim, Basil and Mason, Ian. 1999. The Translator as Communicator. Routledge: New York

Ingemann, Marcus. The Power of Mind Mapping.

Pochhacker, Franz. 2004. Introducing Interpreting Studies.New York: Routlegde Taylor and Francis Group.

Santiago, R. 2004. Consecutive Interpreting: A Brief Review. Available at

Seleskovitch, D. 1978. Interpreting for International Conferences.Washington,DC: Pen & Booth.

Smith, F. 1985. Reading Without Nonsense.New York: NY Teacher’s College Press

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