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As far as I can see, numbers are a big challenge especially when they come in great numbers. I would be happy to know any tips and techniques that can make the life of an interpreter easier.

asked 21 Apr '12, 08:19

dilsayar's gravatar image


edited 21 Apr '12, 08:32

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck ♦♦

Helping your partner in the booth when it comes to numbers can indeed reduce the stress level in many situations.

Long-time colleagues and I always start taking down the numbers when they are mentioned very fast or when they are difficult (e.g. numbers of votes mentioned at supersonic speed during shareholders' assemblies) - not the easy one-off figure since this might be more distracting than helpful.

Rather than wasting time on drawing for example 400 000, we would put down 4'' '''.

When working with a colleague for the first time on an assignment where lots numbers can be expected, I raise the subject on whether or not they would like help before we get started. I also let colleagues know that my eyesight is sometimes not good enough to read small print on faraway slides and give them an example of what I can still read and what I cannot read. This way they know why I might ask for help when they can still read everything without problems.

It helps to put the numbers that will be repeated time and again (share capital etc.) at the top of the note pad or on an extra sheet of paper that you can use throughout the meeting.

When interpreting scientific subjects make sure you also note next to the number what it was referring to (volt, watt, ohm, meters, feet etc. - of course using the respective signs or abbreviations) because your colleague might be almost a sentence behind and will appreciate the extra information to put the number into context.

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answered 22 Apr '12, 21:11

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 22 Apr '12, 21:14

  • write them down as soon as you hear them, ie before you need to repeat them

  • (because we're in "processing mode" we easily "lose" everything which is non-processable, ie figures, names etc... of course a boothmate who also does it - unobtrusively - is worth his/her weight in you will be because you'll obviously reciprocate)

  • develop ways of noting them that give you an approximation even when you do not write down all digits, so that you'll at least be able to give a ballpark figure as opposed to nothing or the wrong order of magnitude

  • "53" on a piece of paper could be any figure starting with 53... I use 53th or 53MM for thousands and millions, respectively, if those two were all I caught or all that was said ...

  • finally, if operations are involved in order to convey quantities in a different currency or system, break them down in your mind into manageable chunks, ie operations with "intuitive" results, ie 157x2= 150x2=300 + 7x2=14 = 314 :-).

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answered 21 Apr '12, 10:22

msr's gravatar image


edited 21 Apr '12, 11:32

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck ♦♦


Thank you, I also hear people talking about visualizing numbers, do you know about it

(21 Apr '12, 12:53) dilsayar

You're very welcome :-). Visualizing is indeed something lots of people do, myself I tend to do it only when I'm doing mental arithmetics, not for figures needing only being committed to short term memory... anyway, whatever works ;-)!

(21 Apr '12, 13:24) msr

It is always useful to substantiate the exercises I give to my students on what research says. There is something called the Tightrope Hypothesis. Many studies have tested, on the basis of the Tightrope Hypothesis, the interpretation of numbers. Results are conducive to the conclusion that numbers often present problems (in particular those that need conversion for syntactic reasons or because the systems are different). Take the case of the American 1 billion and the Spanish mil millones. In these cases, research has found out that either the numbers are omitted or rendered incorrectly. Or that neighboring segments would be affected because of the carry-over effect; that is, too much attention is focused on numbers, and not enough left to deal with neighboring segment. So, apparently traning in numbers for interpreters is better in context that in isolation. For various techniques see Moratoo, Riccardo, 2011 CIRIN Bulletin nº 44 (not yet on line)

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answered 21 Apr '12, 19:50

Vero's gravatar image


edited 27 Apr '12, 10:21

I find it helpful to anticipate which order of magnitude I am likely to encounter during my upcoming assignment. For instance, the tax revenue figures for my country will likely be in the billion range, whereas millions will probably be the maximum order of magnitude mentioned when reporting annual revenues of a single corporation in a single country. Taking the time to properly prepare yourself before conferences, which includes arriving ahead of the scheduled start time, might be a good tip not only on this issue but in general. (See my answer to the question on what to do to make sure your hearing doesn't suffer in the booth).

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answered 01 May '12, 22:00

Laura's gravatar image


edited 01 May '12, 22:05

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question asked: 21 Apr '12, 08:19

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