Introduction to Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpretation

Introduction to Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpretation

Proficiency Level:


Students will be introduced to the concept of note-taking as a memory aid for consecutive interpretation. We will start with twelve symbols, and practice the consecutive mode  by using previous class vocabulary. Students will be encouraged to start developing their own symbols for note-taking.


consecutive, interpretation, note-taking, symbols, memory, toma de notas, apuntes, consecutiva, interpretación

About the Author:

I have the pleasure of teaching Spanish for the Professions (medical and court interpretation, community-based learning, experiential learning)  at Boise State University, as well as for the State of Idaho. I  am a certified medical interpreter through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. I also hold a federal court interpreter certification (Spanish), and a state court interpreter certification for both Spanish and Portuguese.

If you find any significant errors or have any questions about the content or delivery of the activity, feel free to email me at

Class Demographics:

I have used this activity in my Spanish 382 Spanish for Healthcare to introduce students to note-taking for consecutive interpretation. The enrollment cap is twenty five (25) students. We met twice a week for 75 minutes.

Objectives from Course’s Learning Outcomes:

  • To develop the necessary skills to accurately interpret using the consecutive mode.
  • To acquire and use medical terminology needed to accurately interpret and/or translate in medical settings.

Materials Needed:

  • Powerpoint with the symbols for note-taking, as well as the exercises.
  • Optional:  YouTube video that may be assigned as homework
  • Optional: Glossary of words students were assigned as homework, and that we will practice/review in class. 

Powerpoint with Note-Taking Exercises

Explanation of Consecutive VIDEO



"Today we will learn and then practice a few symbols that will be helpful for taking notes during consecutive interpretation. Consecutive interpretation requires great memory skills. Jotting down some symbols may aid you in remembering what was said by the patient or medical staff." (Students will read the quotes from the Powerpoint regarding the consecutive mode of interpretation,  and note-taking).

"Although I will share some symbols that I personally use when I interpret consecutively in either a court setting or a medical setting, you will most likely end up (and should) developing your own symbols. Symbols are a memory aid so they really only work if they mean something to you. However, many symbols have a quasi-universal meaning. For example, mathematical or punctuation symbols come in very handy; don’t shy away from emojis."  (Students will read the quote available on the Powerpoint regarding symbols.)

Instructor Draws these symbols on the board:           ≠        ?        #        ➗

Ask students possible meanings for the above symbols. Here are some ideas to add to those that students share with you. (I usually accept both English and Spanish since this is an advanced class and focuses on interpretation.)

≠        Difference; different; unequal; not the same;

?        Question; doubt; interrogation;

#        Amount; quantity; number; value;

➗        Divide; split; separate; sort;

Main Activity

Students will be sitting in groups. One table at a table (while activities last) will be completing the activity on the whiteboard/s available, and others at their tables, and then when a patient story is completed (four patient stories available on the PowerPoint), we will switch to a different group. At the tables students will need pen and paper. Please ask students to divide their sheet right down the middle, just like a stenographer’s pad. (Image available on Powerpoint).

“Now, using some of the symbols I have shared with you on the slide, as well as some news ones of your own (remember you can use emojis, mathematical or punctuation signs), you will transcribe from Spanish into “symbols” what I will read to you in Spanish."

Once students have used some symbols that represent the utterance in Spanish, I will have volunteers repeat it back in SPANISH. Once I know that the message is complete in Spanish, I will ask another one of the students that are at the whiteboards to interpret into English. I will also share with them the symbols I would have used (on Powerpoint), but symbols are very personal. Students may choose their own as long as they help them remember what was said. Before we move on to the next utterance, I ask students to please draw a line so they know where one utterance ends and the other begins (see image on Powerpoint).

Students may NOT use whole words at all (no more than three letters). Students may abbreviate the word by taking out all the vowels or using the first three letters, but the rule is NO complete words. Also, students are NOT to write everything down. They must try one symbol per sentence. "Use your mad text messaging skills!"

 For example:

Instructor:        ¿Cuánto dinero cuesta?

Students:        #           $           ?     /// ¿Cuánto dinero cuesta? /// How much money does it cost?

Instructor:        No sé. Creo que pagué doscientos dólares.

Students:        Xsé             $200 .   /// No sé. Creo que pagué doscientos dólares.  /// . I don't know. I think I paid two hundred dollars.

Instructor:        Está muy caro. No puedo pagar tanto dinero. No lo tengo.

Students:        $        XPGR  $                XTNG .  /// Está muy caro. No puedo pagar tanto dinero. No lo tengo.   /// It is very expensive. I can't pay so much money. I don't                                                                                                                                                                                             have it.

As students work on the whiteboards, I will point out good solutions/symbols that they may want to consider adopting in the future. 


Wrap-up questions:

1. Did you see a symbol from a colleague that you found interesting or even really useful?

2. Did you create any symbol(s) of your own? Please share with us.

3. Did you find it easier to remember or was it distracting?

4. Any other observations?

Suggested Homework:

I have prepared a video with more note-taking explanations and made it available for the students. It is for my court interpretation class, but it is still useful for note-taking. VIDEO

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