7 Tips on Note Taking for Medical Interpreters

7 Tips on Note Taking for Medical Interpreters

Note Taking For Medical InterpretersOne of the most stressful parts of being an interpreter is the thought that mid-interpretation you might forget part of the dialogue that was spoken, or how to say a word. As a medical interpreter this can seem even more intimidating because a patient’s health is on the line.

To combat this stress many medical interpreters will choose to take notes while they interpret. While there is no right or wrong way to do this, there are some useful tips on note taking for medical interpreters that will help you get down the important details and remember dialogue easily.

Note Taking for Consecutive Medical Interpreting

Generally note-taking is a tool best used while providing consecutive medical interpreting, as there is enough time in-between each party speaking to write information down. While you can take notes during simultaneous interpretation, it does take a bit more practice.

That being said, here are 7 tips on note taking for medical interpreters to help you take effective notes during your assignments!

Many of these tips are based on suggestions made by Jean-Francois Rozan, and more can be learned about them in his book “Note-taking in Consecutive Interpreting.”

7 Tips on Effective Note Taking For Interpreters

  1. Use the “Subject, Verb, Object” method

The Subject, Verb, Object (or SVO) variant is part of a method of note-taking first introduced by Jean-Francois Rozan in his 7 principles. It is performed exactly as it sounds.

On a piece of paper you write down the subject, verb, and object of each sentence you are listening to in descending order, diagonally to the right. Each new sentence or topic is separated on a page by a horizontal line.

Writing the main parts of the sentence, and in a way that shows their hierarchical relationship to each other, will help you better remember what was said.


  1. Use the “Stacking” method

Building on top of his SVO model (and his vertical note-taking method as described in the second paragraph above), Rozan also suggested a stacking method. The stacking method takes out the need to write down linking words by visually representing them. For example noting down “the diagnosis on file” would look similar to:






  1. Use mnemonicsNote Taking

The main goal of a mnemonic is to help you remember things. There are a variety of different mnemonics you can use while taking notes – choose the ones that work best for you! Two common examples are:

  • Acronyms like FACE – used to remember the keyboard notes lying in-between the lines (F, A, C, E)
  • Model Mneumonics – where you write keywords in a visual manner, representative of their meaning




  1. Use keywords, not full sentences, and abbreviations

Trying to write out full sentences as they are being said is a good way to not actively listen, and miss the meaning behind what you’re writing down. Instead, write key words and phrases as you hear them to help jog your memory when you go to interpret.

If you need to write down a complete thought use abbreviations where possible. Rozen suggests you to write the first and last letters not the first few letters when writing abbreviations. This helps eliminate confusion for abbreviations with multiple interpretations.

For example, “comp” could stand for computer, completely, complementary, computation etc.

Instead, if you write “comptr” you will not have any confusion about the meaning of your abbreviation.


  1. Draw pictures and use symbols

Note Taking for InterpretersDoodling has been proven to help with memory, so when in doubt feel free to exert your artistry, but you can also use symbols and doodles to signify different words and meaning.

Part of Jean-Francois Rozan’s lessons on interpreter note taking highlighted the benefits of using signs and symbols to replace words.

For example, he suggested you underline a word to represent that it was emphasized (replacing words like very, really a lot etc.), and double underline a word to indicate a stronger emphasis (replacing words like extremely, extraordinarily, drastically etc.).

You can even draw lines straight through words to indicate negation. Therefore, “Go” becomes “Go” signifying “no go” (you can also write “no” in front of words to indicate the same meaning).

Rozan also discussed how you can use symbols to indicate multiple words or expressions like:

  • “=” to indicate equals/the same as/corresponds to
  • “+” to indicate additional/new/increase
  • “-“ to indicate without/minus /decrease


  1. Write down the main vocabulary words (in order)

We mentioned this technique in our blog about memory training exercises for interpreters, and it is perfect for note taking for medical interpreters too!

Writing down the main keywords you hear in the order of when they were said, will give you a visual timeline of the dialogue, and points to connect smaller details to. It can even help you remember difficult vocabulary!

Check them off as you say them so you also have a physical action to guide you through the sentence, and to help prevent you from forgetting anything.


  1. Group together main ideas and supporting ideas Note Taking For Interpreters

Again using keywords from the conversation you are interpreting, write down the main theme of each topic being discussed as you hear it. Then write down the important keywords for the points supporting that theme around it, using arrows to connect ideas that follow one another according to the flow of the dialogue.

You can use a similar visual as that used for “mind mapping”.


Practicing Your Note-Taking

Now that you have a few ideas on effective note taking for medical interpreters, the next step is to practice them! Interpreter note taking skills don’t come overnight, so the next time you go out to an assignment, make sure you bring a notebook along and try out each one to see what works best for you.

If you are not already a professional medical interpreter, you can practice these techniques and more through medical interpreter training programs.

Practicing Note TakingLanguage Connections offers a 7 week medical interpreter training course, designed to help aspiring interpreters learn the techniques they need to be successful in a professional setting. Our course, taught by professional medical interpreters, covers topics including:

  • The interpreter’s code of ethics
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical interpreter roles and skills

At the end of the program, you will receive a medical interpreter certificate that states you have completed a medical interpreter program. While this is not the same as passing the medical interpreter certification exam, it will help you find work at hospitals in the Boston area.

Don’t let the fear of being forgetful stop you from pursuing a rewarding career in medical interpreting. Sign up and get started on your training and practicing your interpreter note taking skills today!

Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter Training, Legal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.

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