Two Professional Interpreter Tools (To Improve How You Take Notes AND Communicate)

Two world leaders gather to talk policy in totally different languages. And they do it(?!). All thanks to these lesser known professionals called “interpreters.” At the core of the trade are two listening and note-taking techniques. We can apply them anywhere. 

Consecutive Interpreting is when a speaker and interpreter effectively take turns. The speaker speaks, then the interpreter interprets. Because the information is being conveyed in blocks, the interpreter takes notes (often in personalized shorthand) to capture exact points, phrases, and ideas. 

Simultaneous Interpreting is when a speak speaks fluidly and the interpreter interprets in real-time, usually only lagging by a few seconds. Because the information is being conveyed at the speed of speech, the interpreter is focused on communicating the essence of the key points, phrases, and ideas. 

We can apply both techniques to taking notes. The methods aren’t precisely the same, but the outcome can be. Notes are, after all, interpretations of what we’re hearing. After learning these terms, I realized I flip back and forth while I’m talking to clients, reading books, or just hanging out on the internet. I’m rarely in one style – as a professional interpreter would be – but I’m almost always bouncing between the two. 

Exacting and Essencing

Exacting is when we’re pressing play and then pause on a podcast (or any medium) to get exact quotes, words, or citations. We’re asking the person across the table to “hold that thought” and repeat something to us. Precision is the goal and we need exact blocks to be entered in our notes. 

Essencing is when we’re letting the podcast play and jotting down notes about the feel, or essence of what’s being said. We’re jotting “personal history – this is about her mother” down next to a quoted citation from earlier. Color is the goal and we need generalized thoughts in our notes. 

Because taking notes is about interpreting for ourselves first, we want to develop our own skill at mixing exacting and essencing techniques. 

Being aware of the terms can give us the freedom to focus on each. Seeing how interpreters work can give us deeper insights into tricks we can apply. Get more interpreter schooling in this short video, “How Interpreters Do Their Job.” 

h/t Jonathan R. for explaining these techniques to me (and pointing out I was using my variation on them when I do my summaries on Breaking News). Our conversation + the source material he referenced + my notes from each are what made this post. Go make cool friends. How’s that for a productivity hack?

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