Note-taking in Medical Interpreting

Caitlin Nicholson

Note-taking in Medical Interpreting

Many interpreters take notes to remember key ideas. In medical interpreting, the use of notes must be especially efficient.

Translators write, and interpreters speak — right?

The formula above is basically true: translators render a written version of material in a foreign language, while interpreters produce an oral “translation.” However, some interpreters do carry a pen and notepad — and make good use of them.

Simultaneous interpreters, of course, do not have enough time to take notes. But consecutive interpreters often use notes to recreate the structure of a speech or dialogue. Interpreters develop their own techniques, with some relying on symbols and drawings while others note key words.

The main purpose of these notes is to help them remember the structure of what has been said so as not to forget anything. Memory is still very important to bring out the details of the content.

In medical settings, it can be difficult to break all utterances up into short chunks. A doctor may want to make a relatively long explanation of a diagnosis, for example, without constant interruption. In cases like this, it is essential for the medical interpreter to take complete and efficient notes so absolutely nothing is left out.

Some interpreters even use note-taking in dialogue interpreting, for example while interpreting a short conversation between a patient and a staff member.

In general, note-taking skills are important for any type of consecutive interpreting, not just speech and conference interpreting.

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