Note-taking for Medical Interpreters: Resources and Practice Materials

person holding orange click pen writing on notebookNote-taking as part of consecutive interpretation is an essential skill for any interpreter – whether you’re interpreting at a medical appointment, a deposition, or a conference, and whether you’re doing this in person, over the phone or remotely. This blog post is a collection of resources for developing note-taking skills. In addition to pooling together materials from a variety of sources, this post contains some practical exercises I created especially for this blog post.

The basics of note-taking

If you’re fairly new to the idea of note-taking, start by reading and watching these excellent materials on the basic principles of note-taking:

Note-taking symbols

  • In this helpful video, Andrew Gillies, the author of Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting: A Short Course explains when and why to use symbols and how to make them more efficient.
  • This video from Interpretrain contains some ideas for symbols as well as recommendations for learning them.
  • This search engine for symbols has some interesting ideas.

Note-taking abbreviations

  • This list of abbreviations (with some symbols thrown in) from the University of Calgary was created to aid students in taking notes during lectures, but it still has some good ideas for symbols that medical interpreters can use.
  • Some more general-topic abbreviations from the University of Redlands
  • Ideas for abbreviation words here.
  • Medical abbreviations: List 1, List 2 (scroll down to page 3) and List 3.

Practice, practice, practice

man wearing black crew neck t shirt using black headphones reading book while sitting
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on

When you’re learning a new language, becoming proficient takes some time and practice. Think of this: even beginner students of English can say fairly fluently “Hi, my name is….” In fact, at some point they have said this phrase so many times, they don’t have to think about HOW to say it anymore – they just say it. Now, when students are introduced to a new concept, for example, Present Perfect Continuous, it’s going to take a while before they can fluently say “I’ve been living here for 10 years”. Moreover, as a teacher, I would fully expect a student to take a few seconds to think, maybe even consult their notes, the first time they would try to make a sentence using the new grammar. However, the more they engage in meaningful practice, the more automated the production of new language becomes. I write all this in order to convince you that you cannot become a proficient note-taker overnight. You are, after all, learning a new language (the note-taking symbols and abbreviations)  and acquiring a new skill at the same time. 

So, how DO you practice? I learned of this technique while attending Katharine Allen’s Next-level Consecutive Note-taking Practice workshop at the California Healthcare Interpreting Association’s 20th Educational Conference conference in San Diego. Below you will find instructions, as well as practice materials: 3 audio recordings, each accompanied by a word list and a transcript. You will also need a pen and paper, and a recording device (e.g. a cell phone or a voice recording program on your computer). 

Step 1.

Download the practice materials.

Step 2. 

Start with Recording 1 and the Keyword worksheet for this recording.

  • Think of how you will note each word – will you choose a symbol or an abbreviation?
  • Will you choose an existing symbol/abbreviation from one of the sources listed in this blog post, or will you create your own? 

Step 3. 

Listen to the recording and take notes. Do not pause the recording! I intentionally made the texts longer so that you couldn’t get away with interpreting sentence by sentence without using any notes. 

Step 4. 

Using your notes, reproduce the original text. To make the task easier, you can try reproducing the text in English rather than translating it into your target language. Record yourself. 

Step 5. 

Listen to your recording while looking at the tapescript. Answer the following questions:

  • Were your notes accurate and complete? 
  • Were you able to accurately reproduce the original text? 
  • Did you find a convenient way to note negation and emphasis?
  • Were the symbols and abbreviations easy to write and easy to understand? 
  • Do you need to choose different symbols and abbreviations or will you keep these ones? Could you have organized the information in a more efficient way? 
  • Were there any other words you’d like to have symbols/abbreviations for? (there are some blank spaces in the Keywords Worksheet for you to do that).

Step 6.

Repeat steps 2-5 for all the recordings. Then repeat them again until you are satisfied with your answers to the questions in Step 4.

Step 7.

Go one step further. Practice note-taking as you listen to medical podcasts or audiobooks, YouTube videos or medical TV shows. My blog post with practice activities on idioms for medical interpreters also contains several audio recordings that can be used for note-taking practice.

If you have any questions or would like to collaborate on organizing training, please get in touch with me using the contact form in the menu at the top of the page.

More about the author: About Yuliya Speroff

16 thoughts on “Note-taking for Medical Interpreters: Resources and Practice Materials

  1. Yulia, thank you so much! As usual, fantastic resources and tips!! Your posts really help and I appreciate you!


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