Can You Dig a Hole Without a Shovel?

Can you dig a hole without a shovel? Of course you can! While a shovel is a tool designed specifically for digging, you can use any number of tools that aren’t especially suited for this task. If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can even roll up your sleeves and dig using your hands. Just don’t be surprised if you get a decent amount of dirt under those nails!

Let’s call a spade a shovel…

But can you dig a hole efficiently without a shovel or a tool that is especially intended for digging? Is your hole going to be nice and neat, to the exact specifications you’d like it to be? Does digging a hole without a shovel merit some sort of recognition that shovel-diggers shouldn’t be getting? Does the ease with which you dig a hole with a shovel negate your level of hole-digging expertise?

Digging to the Core of the Issue

For the purposes of this enthralling April Fool’s metaphor, interpreting in the consecutive mode is like digging, and note-taking is our metaphorical shovel. Note-taking seems to be a bit of a point of contention in the medical interpreting community, especially among in-person interpreters. We’ve heard it all:

  • Interpreters insisting they’ve interpret consecutively without ever having taken notes
  • Facilities or even language services departments discouraging note-taking during consecutive interpreting encounters
  • Providers questioning an interpreter’s abilities simply for engaging in note-taking.

As the author of this post, I’ve even had other interpreters poke fun of me for being one of the only medical interpreters in the Richmond, Virginia area who takes notes!

In all reality, note-taking is just another tool in the consecutive interpreter’s toolbox. Just as using a shovel is a conventional and efficient approach to digging a hole, so too is note-taking a way to work smarter (not harder!) when interpreting in the consecutive mode. Furthermore, the act of taking notes for consecutive interpretation doesn’t mean an interpreter is unskilled or inexperienced. In fact, one might argue that note-taking is a tool that, when used skillfully in combination with other tools like memory, can actually enhance the interpreter’s renditions.

Benefits of Using a Shovel

Just as you can dig a better hole with the right tool, so too can you interpret more effectively in the consecutive mode by developing your note-taking skills. Unlike digging holes though, consecutive interpretation requires relying heavily on the interpreters’ short-term memory. Unfortunately, our short-term memory is incredibly limited and requires a decent amount of attention to be able to hold on to its limit of 6 or 7 chunks of information. While we certainly encourage interpreters to focus on further developing their memory skills, solid note-taking skills convey certain benefits that can give an edge to even the best memory!

Handle More “Dirt”

Note-taking is kind of a “hack” to significantly expand your short-term memory’s capacity by adding an external place to store those bits of information. Instead of limiting yourself to those half a dozen nuggets of information your short-term memory can accommodate, you can let those details spill out onto a page instead, reserving precious brain-space. In addition, the longer the utterance, the more important notes become in enabling an interpreter to render the utterance accurately and completely.

Conserve Your Most Precious Resource

It requires great deal of attention and focus to keep fragments of an utterance in your short-term memory. This is focus that would otherwise be drawn away from your efforts in listening intently to the rest of the utterance to be interpreted. Furthermore, wrestling these fragments from your short-term memory also takes up some of your brainpower. This “brainpower” is your most precious resource as an interpreter because converting messages from one language to another can be quite cognitively taxing! You need all of it you can get. By becoming adept at consecutive note-taking for interpretation, you decrease your cognitive load and allocate some of that brainpower to other, more important tasks.

Unlock Your Full Potential: Use a Shovel!

Just as using the proper tools in any number of other tasks can greatly increase your efficacy and efficiency, so too can improving your note-taking skills for consecutive interpretation. Poor note-taking skills can actually increase your cognitive load, decreasing your ability to pay attention and to accurately interpret, so it’s important that you not only possess this skill, but also know how to use it!

If you’re looking to improve your consecutive interpreting note-taking skills, consider joining InterpreMed! Our basic medical interpreting note-taking course introduces you to Nanyi’s innovative system for note-taking and symbols, which expands upon widely-recognized note-taking standards and best practices. In the process of learning the ins and outs of this unique twist on note-taking, you’ll not only be given symbols for common terms and concepts, but also learn how to develop your own symbols and individualized note-taking system. Members also have access to our advanced consecutive interpreting note-taking course combines Nanyi’s basic note-taking course with advanced memory techniques to enhance your interpreting practice.

Join InterpreMed’s learning community for medical interpreting professionals and students today!

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