A Study on Student-Centered Teaching of Note-Taking in Interpreting

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by Wang Feng , Shuai Hongmei
Classification: FOR Code- 139999
Keywords: student-centered; note-taking; interpreting.
Language: English

Note-taking is of paramount importance in the teaching of interpreting. However, many problems exist in students’ note-taking. To solve such problems, this research suggested solutions concerned with the language selection, content and quantity, use of symbols and abbreviations, coordination between note-taking and memory, etc. Student-centered note-taking teaching principles requires students 1) to understand first; 2) to memorize by brain and to support with notes; 3) to identify students’ problems; 4) to practice in groups; 5) to conduct comprehensive evaluation. It also emphasized the teacher’s and students’ qualifications for successful student-centered teaching of note-taking, in order to improve students’ interpreting skills and enhance the efficiency of interpreting teaching. 


A Study on Student-Centered Teaching of Note-Taking in Interpreting  

Wang Fengα & Shuai Hongmeiσ



Note-taking is of paramount importance in the teaching of interpreting. However, many problems exist in students’ note-taking. Thus, this research suggested solutions concerned with the language selection, content and quantity, use of symbols and abbreviations, coordination between note-taking and memory, etc.                     Student-centered note-taking teaching principles require students 1) to understand first; 2) to memorize by the brain and to support with notes; 3) to identify students’ problems; 4) to practice in groups; 5) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. It also emphasizes the teacher’s and students’ qualifications for the successful student-centered teaching of note-taking, to improve students’ interpreting skills and enhance the efficiency of interpreting teaching.

Keywords: student-centered; note-taking; interpreting.

Author α σ: School of Foreign Studies, Yangtze University, No. 1, Nanhuan Road, Jingzhou City 434023, Hubei Province, China.

Corresponding Author σ: School of Foreign Studies, Yangtze University, No. 1, Nanhuan Road, Jingzhou City 434023, Hubei Province, China.

e-mail: 724885609@qq.com


With the world stepping into a new era and China’s opening to the world, it is urgent for Chinese people to communicate with the outside world in an all-directional and multi-level manner. The communications, concerning economy, culture, education and politics and so on, become much deeper and more frequent than any other time in history. Therefore, competent interpreters become more and more in demand than ever before. Meanwhile the need for studies on interpreting theory and teaching methodology is far more than any other time in history.

As is known to most people, interpreting teaching has two distinctive features. On the one hand, empirically collected data and scientific research methods are applied to explain the internal mechanisms involved in interpreting performance. On the other, interpreting is viewed from various perspectives and becomes an inter-disciplinary issue (Gile, 1995: 256). Famous representative theories include the Verbal-Nonverbal-Verbal model by Seleskovitch (1976), the Organization-Condensation- Generation model by Mackintosh (1985) and Gile’s Effort Model (1995). Except for those in the West, some Chinese interpreting researchers gradually transited the research from static to dynamic. More and more experiments and empirical studies are carried out to evaluate the quality and fidelity of interpreting. At the same time, many scholars make substantial contributions to interpretive theories and training, such as Bao Gang (2005), Liu Heping (2005) and Cai Xiaohong (2001).

Though no specific theories were devoted to exploring the nature and functions of notes, note-taking was considered as one of the indispensable parts of the integrated process of interpreting. The earliest studies concerning note-taking in interpreting were mainly based on personal experiences of those fore-running interpreters, who provided suggestions and practical techniques gained from real interpreting tasks on how to take notes or what notes should look like. Their theories and findings acted as guidelines for those who were thinking about entering the interpreting field at that time. Later, it is explored with more theoretical and empirical explanations, rather than as an independent skill to be mastered. Many scholars have applied theories to note-taking teaching in interpreting, such as Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) (Ma, 2008: 5), Scheme Theory (Shen, 2013: 13), Limitation Teaching (Wang & Zhong, 2010: 2), and Student-centered Teaching (Chen, 2005: 11). These research throw light on the application of the student-centered teaching in note-taking.

However, what problems exist in the teaching of note-taking? How to teach note-taking to improve students’ interpreting quality? Which methodology should we take in note-taking teaching? Though the Effort Model and Interpretative Theory offered guidance to interpreting teaching, it still needs more detailed information for note-taking teaching. To improve the quality of interpreting teaching, it’s a wiser choice to enhance the teaching of note-taking. Liu Heping (2005: 456) points out that interpreting is not the simple encoding and decoding from the source language to the target language, so the purpose of interpreting teaching is to enable the students to master the interpreting mechanism, and that interpreting skills can be obtained with scientific and systematic training. Inspired by these viewpoints, we aim to further discuss the application of student-centered teaching of note-taking.


2.1  Problems in the Language Selection of Note-taking

There are two different mainstream stances the majority of scholars hold: one group agrees to take notes in the original language, and the other prefers the target language (Gile, 1995: 189). Which one is better? Is it always better to take notes in the target language? As we know, some words in Chinese or English are difficult to write down. If the target language is always preferred, the interpreter will spend too much time in writing down those long words or Chinese characters. Sometimes much necessary information would be missed. Thus, teachers should help them choose the right language to take notes, which directly affects the quality of interpreting performance. Unfortunately, students are often indeterminate in using the more convenient language in different situations.

2.2  Problems in the Quantity of Note-taking

One of the common problems is that students are often trying to write down too many words and sentences from the speech they hear in interpreting. Especially for beginners, they always have an intention of recording every word while taking notes, which is absolutely a waste of time and goes against the rules of note-taking. Due to the limited processing capacity, students should not spend too much time on note-taking because it will lead to the increase of memory load. Still, other students are reluctant to write down anything on the paper. Sometimes, those incompetent students would only sketch a few lines. How much note-taking should be done depends on many factors. However, too many or too few notes are not leading to successful interpreting, in most cases.

2.3 Problems in the Use of Symbols and Abbreviations

Symbols and abbreviations are frequently used in note-taking. However, many students can’t properly use symbols and abbreviations, which are created by interpreters for quick writing. The correct use of symbols in note-taking can help the interpreter not only to save more time to keep up with the speed of the speaker but also to help the interpreter to acquire a clearer understanding of the original message with a better memory. Hence, the mastery of some common symbols is a necessary skill for a qualified interpreter. However, some students would use the same symbol in the same paragraph to refer to different meanings, which would cause misunderstanding in the following interpreting, especially when the original is quite long and difficult.

2.4 Problems in the Balance between Listening and Note-Taking

Note-taking is apparently important for the interpreter to remember information, but it’s just an assistant tool for memory. It’s not right to put the cart before the horse. Especially for beginners, they are often fascinated in using note-taking after learning that skill and believing that notes can help them remember all the information. Consequently, they would have insufficient attention and concentration in listening, comprehension, and expression. Actually, finding a balance between listening and note-taking can help the interpreter to better render the original message.


3.1  Language Selection in Note-Taking

For students, they are usually reluctant to decide which language is better for them when they hear an expression. When they are thinking about whether to use the original language or the target language to take notes, they are easily misled to search for corresponding expressions in their mind, which goes against the training objective: don’t translate the language only, but the meaning of them. Thus, to improve the students’ ability to transform languages swiftly while listening and taking notes, there is no reason why not increase the proportion of target language use in note-taking training. More often than not, note-taking could be code-mixing, which means both of the original and the target languages could be used in interpreting if only the interpreter is quick in language selection.

3.2 Quantity of Note-taking

To avoid the problems of taking down everything in notes, it’s proposed that students should have a right and scientific understanding of note-taking in their mind. Students could just write down the key words, logic connectives, and important details. It’s an essential ability for students to distinguish the important information from the less important information and choose to note down what should be noted down. With an appropriate quantity of note-taking in mind, they could build up a complete structure of the speech and be confident, fluent and accurate in interpreting. Here, what to note and how much to note are almost equally important for successful interpreting.

3.3 Use of Symbols and Abbreviations in Note-taking

Symbols and abbreviations are indispensable and practical assistant tool for students to take notes in interpreting. Professor Dai Weidong and Xu Haiming (2007: 136) found a higher percentage of the usage of symbols and abbreviations among professional interpreters. Lin Chaolun also pointed out six keys in symbols and abbreviations: “less writing but more drawing, fewer words but more meanings, fewer lines but more points, less horizontal but more vertical, quick writing and clear ending" (Lin, 2004: 4-6). If students can make full use of symbols flexibly in their note-taking, they could save much time and energy. In training, teachers can give them chances to search for and collect many practical symbols, and ask them to choose the most appropriate symbols. At the same time, teachers should encourage them to create their systems of symbols and abbreviations on the basic premise of being practical and convenient.

3.4 Coordination between Note-taking and Memory

Theoretically speaking, the interpreting process could be seen as reception-decoding-memory- encoding-expression (Mei, 2000: 137). Owing to the constant flow of messages in the speech, students would perhaps forget some information while taking notes. How to take notes while still remembering what is not taken down is a hard task for most people. Note-taking can’t take the place of memory’s work. In other words, it can’t replace the important role of the brain’s memory. Therefore, students must be trained to weigh and balance the information while listening, paying less attention to unimportant information. Filtering out the less important information will reduce the pressure of limited memory, which is a necessary process between listening, note-taking and memorizing. With good coordination between note-taking and memory, students could have a better comprehension of the original speech and make outstanding interpreting.


The teaching principles of student-centered note- taking are the foci in interpreting, and they are the keys to improve students’ overall interpreting performance.

4.1 To Understand First

A thorough understanding is the basis of interpreting. Students should first understand the original message, and then write down their notes after listening to the source language and getting the main idea. Notes in interpreting are mainly concerned with the details and logical connections. In the beginning, many students often neglect the importance of understanding. They just take down what they have heard just like they are doing a dictation. They pay too much attention to the notes instead of the contents, thus producing unrelated words only. In the teaching of note-taking, teachers should teach them how to grasp the key words and the main idea by understanding.

4.2 To Memorize by the Brain and to Support with Notes

“To memorize by the brain and to support with notes” is another basic principle of note-taking in interpreting. Students should not only rely on notes because notes in interpreting can only help rather than replace the brain’s memory. If they ignore the comprehension and analysis of the information but pay too much attention to note-taking, they won’t perform well. Therefore, teachers are supposed to teach them how to select the key information, such as proper nouns, places, etc. Trying to write down the full information will only increase the burden on the memory. In other words, memory is more important than notes.

4.3 To Identify Students’ Problems

As different students have different writing habits, one method cannot apply to all. The teaching methods need to be adjusted based on each student’s reaction ability, translation ability, memorizing ability, psychological quality, notes format, practice materials, etc. Teachers must be patient enough to identify everyone’s problem and conduct targeted practice to improve their average level. As students are the active constructor of knowledge and the subject of study, identifying their problems can help them to reflect on themselves and make progress under the guidance of teachers (Gu & Chen, 2011: 8).

4.4  To Practice in Groups

To practice in groups is a good way to motivate students’ team spirits. They can learn from each other and find out their shortcomings. Through heated discussion and competition, they can improve and catch up with others. In addition, they can become more confident under less pressure and produce the best performance. The team members can flexibly select their roles in interpreting, such as speakers, interpreters in mock interpreting practice. The more they have communications and exchanges in the group practice, the more they will learn from each other.

4.5  To Conduct Comprehensive Evaluation

After each interpreting simulation activity, teachers should timely guide students to make group evaluation and self-reflection, then they can adjust their learning methods, grasp the next learning point and finally improve the interpreting level with the help of teachers and classmates(Gu & Chen, 2011). Also, teachers should make a comprehensive evaluation, paying attention to the problems of note-taking that may be ignored in daily interpreting. Teachers should also make students understand their learning environment and set a clear goal for their future improvement.


Students’ linguistic and cultural competence are the prerequisite of note-taking teaching in interpreting. Thus, they should be firstly considered before conducting interpreting teaching. Gile (1995: 76) puts forward concepts like ‘KL’ (knowledge of the language) and ‘ELK’ (extra-linguistic knowledge). Professor Zhong Weihe (2009: 336) thinks that the qualifications for an interpreter should include being bilingual and good at oral expression, having encyclopedic knowledge, good mentality, strong desire to learn new knowledge, team spirit, and professional ethics. It is worth noting that these demands might activate interpreters’ potential, their initiative or creativity before bringing out their best performance during interpreting. For students, they should have the following qualities before taking interpreting classes.

5.1  Language Skills

As interpreting includes the conversion of two languages, students should master the mother tongue and use it smoothly in listening, speaking, reading and writing. They should have enough knowledge of conversational regulators and turn-taking behaviors, for people speaking different languages may share much in common in these fields. It’s much better if they have bilingual language skills.

5.2  Language Proficiency  

To some extent, linguistic proficiency refers to a fairly satisfactory command of the languages involved. In fact, what is demanded contains an exceptionally large vocabulary, precision, flexibility of expression, and most of all, listening comprehension ability, without which one can hardly understand and render the messages into another language. Moreover, they should have accurate articulation and a good understanding of accents or dialects involved in every single language.

5.3  Cross-Cultural Awareness  

It is of great importance for students in interpreting to have cross-cultural awareness. Students at different stages show differences regarding cross-cultural awareness. They should be able to identify the culture-related issues in two or more cultural backgrounds. Meanwhile, they should be familiar with the cultural diversities in the languages they interpret and have a thorough understanding of words and phrases whose connotative meanings are associated with the given culture.

5.4 Wide-Ranging Knowledge

Wide-ranging knowledge is as important as the command of languages. It’s believed that an interpreter must know something of everything and everything of something. Therefore, they must have some knowledge in many fields, knowing what has recently happened both home and abroad, because the nature of the profession requires them to keep up with the up-to-date changes and development. No success is gained without years of accumulation of knowledge.  

5.5 Good Memory and Quick Response

Good memory, long-term and short-term, guarantees high-quality interpreting. It includes two aspects: one is to memorize a wide range of vocabulary and a great deal of relevant expressions and verbal phrases, the other is to obtain and remember ideas expressed by the speaker. Quick response is important for the interpreter to understand both the content and the logic of the source speech, and render them into the target language because the interpreter cannot afford the time to think thoroughly, but have quick response to cope with all kinds of difficult situation.

5.6 A Strong Sense of Responsibility

Students should have a strong sense of duty and responsibility. It means that they should be responsible for abiding by the professional ethics and doing pre-conference preparation and try their best to produce the rendition as accurately as possible within a limited time. What’s more, they never stop learning and training to achieve effective and high-quality communications between the speaker and the audience. Being honest and trustworthy is also a prerequisite for a qualified interpreter.

5.7 Other Qualities Needed

To be a qualified interpreter, the students are supposed to be confident, adaptable and function normally under pressure. The qualities -- “6c” in brief: competence, concentration, comprehension, conscientiousness, clarity, and courtesy--may help explain that. With these qualities, they will most likely have a good performance in interpreting.


Teachers are the second important factor in the student-centered teaching of note-taking in interpreting. They must understand every aspect of interpreting and have the ability to predict difficulties in interpreting and putting forward effective methods and tactics to solve those problems. To meet the above requirements, teachers must acquire sufficient professional knowledge, solid interpreting foundation and various practical skills, and enough teaching practice. Teachers are also interpreters. With appropriate interpreting materials and effective methods, teachers can help students improve their note-taking skills and interpreting performance.

6.1 Language-and-Culture-Related Skills

Language-and-culture-related skills refer to skills and knowledge concerning the nature and characteristics of language and culture. Teachers should be bilingual or even multilingual, in addtion to being bicultural or multi-cultural. It means the interpreter must be clear about the nature and characteristics of each language and culture concerned as well as the distinction between or among them. They should know phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics as well as cultural differences. Take English and Chinese for example, there exists a distinctive disparity between the two languages and cultures. A good command of the linguistic features and cultural factors of Chinese and English will fundamentally facilitate high-quality interpreting.

  1. Note-taking skills

As people’s capacity of short-term memory (STM) is quite limited, it’s impossible to remember all the messages at one time. Thus, note-taking is a proper way to meet this requirement in interpreting. When coming across a lot of proper names of people and places as well as huge figures, note-taking is of great help for accurate reproduction. It can also help the interpreter sort out the interrelations in seconds. But paying too much attention to note-taking may make the interpreter miss specific information, so teachers must have a systemic way of note-taking teaching.

  1. Comprehension & memory skills

To improve students’ memory competence, obtaining a basic understanding of the characteristics of memory in interpreting is necessary for teachers. Lederer believes that memory in interpreting is divided into two types: substantive memory and verbatim memory, the former is comprehension, and the latter is memorizing (Lederer, 1981: 643). Hence, teachers must master such skills and teach students how to take notes in case that they forget what they hear when they are listening to the next message.

  1. Expression skills

The expression is different from speaking practice for English majors, so teachers should pay more attention to this procedure in training students. In practice, the interpreter has no right to form his idea, and all he/she should do is to sort out the main idea of the source language into the target language. In production, the interpreting’s pronunciation is not necessarily standard but discernible. His/her speed of speech should not be too quick or too slow, but in an appropriate time to help the speaker and the listeners achieve effective communication.

  1. Cross-cultural awareness

English and Chinese cultures have similarities, however, great differences also exist between them. To be versed in interpreting, the interpreter should have not only linguistic competence but cultural awareness. Without a clear understanding of the cultural differences, the interpreter may sometimes make mistakes. Thus, in the teaching environment, it’s essential for the teacher to have such cultural awareness. The accumulation of cultural knowledge takes a long time, however, cross-cultural awareness is as essential as the above-mentioned linguistic factors.

6.2 Practical Teaching Skills

The real interpreting task is complicated, stressful and challengeable for the interpreter’s brain capacity. Thus, it’s very demanding for teachers of interpreting to be interpreters as well as teachers. Not only should they acquire sufficient language-and-culture-related skills, but develop practical teaching skills from their own interpreting experiences. To do well in note-taking, teachers should master the following skills.

  1. Teaching design skills

Teachers of interpreting should be familiar with the teaching procedures and can design different forms of practice to arouse students’ interest and motivate their potential. Since the teaching of note-taking is boring and difficult, it takes a long time for teachers to offer students appropriate guidance and show examples to develop their note-taking skills. It requires teachers to know quite well about every student and take effective measures to improve their skills step by step.

  1. Classroom teaching skills

Students usually have interpreting classes in the classroom. Thus, it’s of great importance for teachers to create a good communication atmosphere and use appropriate ways to guide them. Also, notes exchange, notes comparison and contrast and interpreting competition in class are great ideas to improve students’ skills. In short, students must make full use of the teaching materials and resources to produce excellent performance in interpreting.

  1. Teaching research

Teachers should be professional interpreters and good researchers. If they conduct relevant researches on teaching methods and principles of interpreting, they can better design the interpreting classes and contents of teaching. Besides, they can learn from the outstanding research achievements in teaching and update their teaching skills according to the actual characteristics of each student so that they can improve the interpreting quality.


Note-taking in interpreting exerts great influence on the interpreting performance, serving mainly as memory clues for recalling information to activate a larger part of the semantic network in interpreters (Roderick, 1997). As an indispensable part in interpreting, note-taking has been under spotlight in interpreting teaching. In fact, note-taking has the characteristics of being personalized and temporary. It’s the carrier of memory, rather than the memory itself. At the very beginning, note-taking training practice would affect the understanding and expression fluency. Therefore, it is important to inform students that they should memorize by the brain and it is dangerous to depend only on note-taking. Students should keep in mind clearly what to take down on the paper and how to memorize. If students are not properly instructed, tending to pay too much attention to details while ignoring the structure of the source language, their quality of interpreting will be affected. Thus, they need appropriate methods to enhance their memory with the help of note-taking. With the increasing need for qualified interpreters, the traditional ways of interpreting teaching can no longer satisfy the demand. For experienced interpreters, notes play a significant role in interpreting; for beginners, notes can be distracting and misleading. Only through continuous practices can they be multi-taskers, and improve the ability to take interpreting notes.

Student-centered teaching method has something common with other teaching methods, but it has its advantages. Students will have more communications and exchanges in interpreting practices to find out the weakness and improve their note-taking skills in interpreting performance. Only when teachers take into consideration the actual situation of students, the curriculum design, the teaching resources and other teaching factors, can they cultivate students’ good habits of note-taking and improve their interpreting skills.


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