Note Taking for Phone Interpretation Calls

In “How to Prepare for a Phone Interpretation Session,” I talked about the preparation needed before the call. Today, I’ll talk about the importance of your note-taking skills during an interpretation call.

The main difference between phone interpretation and in-person interpretation is the lack of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures. When interpreting in person, an interpreter can discern meaning from body language; the speaker can also take cues from the interpreter when he uses a hand gesture to indicate a need for a pause. Without these physical cues to help the speaker and interpreter during a phone call, excellent listening and note taking skills are especially important to ensure the transmission of accurate information between source and target languages.

The three basic skills needed for phone interpreters are good memory, attentive listening, and excellent note-taking skills. These probably sound familiar to seasoned interpreters as they are the same skills needed for in-person interpretation; however, because an interpreter is usually unable  to conduct the interpreters introduction as they would for in-person appointments, speakers aren’t always aware that they should give information in short segments. This can at times result in compact and lengthy segments of information.

While we need to depend on our short-term memory here, jogging down key words, such as nouns and verbs, as well as all numbers and proper nouns, are especially important. In fact, all numbers and proper nouns need to be written down because those are information that tend to escape our short-term memory fastest. One thing to avoid is writing out every single word. Instead, symbols and abbreviations will help make note taking more efficient. For example, if we’re talking about rising temperature, a simple upward arrow with a degree sign would work. Efficient note taking will also ensure that you are not focused more on note taking than listening. When you’re not listening carefully, it’ll become more difficult to recall the information later on when it’s time to render the message.

Fellow interpreters, what kind of information do you jog down when you’re taking notes? I’d love to hear your experiences with this.

Happy interpreting!

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