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When preparing for very technical conferences we need to get acquainted with very special vocabulary, some of which we might have never come across even in our native language. Sometimes the words have only just been coined and need to be understood and remembered. Sometimes the documents only reach us at very short notice.

Apart from

  • doing basic search on the internet and in books and journals,
  • reviewing the documents,
  • writing down word lists and shortlists of vocabulary and sometimes definitions or comments (sometimes by hand),
  • sometimes recording them and listening to the vocabulary whilst walking or running through the park

what else do you do to remember the vocabulary well enough to be able to interpret?

Do you regularly review your terminology and discard terms you are safe with after many years?

Do you take a different approach when you get the interpreting assignment at short notice (provided you weighed all factors and decided to be able to accept in spite of the short notice)?

asked 30 Sep '12, 07:57

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 21 Jan '15, 17:39

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

... very good question, Almute :-)

These days I tend to first go over docs and copy-paste onto a Word doc of my own, usually in the original language, including hyperlinks - to different language versions if available - which I can click on in the booth,

I then hand-copy highlights and add language equivalences - I learned long ago that I remember best what I write as opposed to only read... as you rightly say, retrieving is as important as encoding, ie for instance when it comes to accronyms and initials, I always write the 1st letter of every main word on sucessive horizontal lines and draw a vertical box around all of those 1st letters, then outside the box and horizontally writing on each line the rest of each word...and across the page the mirror-image in the other language.

I also make liberal use of different colours, capitals and underlining to add visual relevance to whatever seems most relevant.

I do revisit my notes before a similar conference - IF I can locate them, woe is me :-)... and for short-notices I do the same, only less thoroughly so.

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answered 30 Sep '12, 08:30

msr's gravatar image


If I have enough time for additional editing of my word list, it often helps me to try to put the words in some logical order (at least one that seems logical to me at the moment, e.g. nouns/adjectives/verbs, names of organizations, technical terms related to a specific field etc., words that are similar and easy to mix up) and to group them in logically related groups of ca. 7 items or less (the groups are separated with empty lines). This way, it's easier to find words that I need while in the booth but more importantly, when I try to systematize the vocabulary and find/create some internal logic, I memorize it faster and better in the process.

For cramming lots of vocabulary on short notice, I like using traditional flashcards (one language on one side, the other one on the other side, sometimes with some additional information/examples). Most of them are disposable. To speed up the process of card-making, I usually use paper blocks like that which I cut in half (which is probably a cheaper solution than special flashcard paper blocks).

I also like SRS software such as Anki or SuperMemo but I use it much more for general language learning than while studying for a conference.

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answered 11 Feb '13, 00:03

Joanna's gravatar image


Hi, Joanna:

Your methods are very interesting and useful. Thank you.

(11 Feb '13, 00:57) Paris Si de ...

I find repetition is the key to activating the vocab (and activation - being able to turn the foreign word you've researched into a target language word in real (interpreting) time - is not quite the same as memorizing). I usually do the following repetitive steps to make it easier to recall the terms when they hit me in the booth...

  1. Read documents and highlight both the subject specific terms that will come up regularly AND terms I don't know
  2. In a second stage I look up terminology and note it on the documents
  3. Write up the terminology notes I've made on the documents into a single cheat sheet, organised thematically. (I also try to note in phrases and collocation, not single words)
  4. Sight translate a couple of pages of the documents the night before or the morning of the meeting
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answered 18 Jan '15, 02:28

Andy's gravatar image


edited 18 Jan '15, 04:06

Dear Almute:

First, I never did conf-interpreting, and up to now my formal interpreting experience is limited within site interpreting for mechanical installation & commissioning. Although I have no idea whether my approach can make of any reference, since I am under training for conf-interpreting, I just write it here, open for comments and guidance from everyone. Thanks for your time and attention.:)

Then, regarding terms, I learned terms from a training before work started. After this, a word list is offered to me. I deal with it in this way: for nouns & verbs which could be understood literally or based on physical/ chemical knowledge, I just remember the translated equivalents; for those with more complicated or strange technical connotation, I will do a deep research into it, focusing in grasping the basic, usually simple logic, and associating this logic with its equivalent as much as possible, which will help it pop out to me when required, and relevant jargons. Another principle is to try to memorize term with its specialty and associate it with as much as possible with existing knowledge. Normally, this works for my previous job. Will this also work for conf-interpreting? Thanks.

Thirdly, I came across a very good tool for brain workers. Mind Mapping It is believed by me and many professionals to be a good tool for learning, memory and thinking.Here,more for your better information. :)

Kindest regards


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answered 30 Sep '12, 08:46

Paris%20Si%20de%20Chine's gravatar image

Paris Si de ...

edited 30 Sep '12, 09:12


Thank you very much, Paris! To use mind maps is a very good idea :-)

(30 Sep '12, 09:19) AlmuteL

Dear Almute:

You are most welcome. Just as Jewish people is smart because they have wise rabbis, besides their doctrines, I owe my thanks to you and other seniors in finding the correct way. Thanks again!

Best regards


(30 Sep '12, 19:54) Paris Si de ...

Hello! This is a very late answer, but I only just came across this question, and have been hearing it a lot recently from former students.

I like MSR's approach to making cut-and-paste documents in your various languages on the topic of the meeting (especially assuming no documents come your way until the last minute - if at all!). I also tend to break vocab down into more general vocab for the client/ institution, and more specifically technical vocab having to do with that particular subject. For example, for a job for an observatory on the latest developments in space surveillance, I would keep terms for Institutional jargon, organization, departments in one glossary, and space surveillance terms in another. When I still had paper glossaries with me, it would make things easier to find. Now that I have computer-based glossaries (Interplex - huge fan!), I keep them a little differently, but still have a way of knowing what is more general vocab and what more specific.

During the meeting, I constantly update my glossary, listening to the client and noting the terms the client uses. I always note where I heard the term in my glossaries, as well as noting the job or client. That way if two separate clients say different things for the same term (ex. Conseil executif can be Executive Council in one place and Executive Board in another), I also have client specific terms.

All of this material gets saved in folders on my computer, and the glossaries in Interplex. That way, if I get a last-minute call, I have ready-made research materials, and only have to update them. For example, I did a meeting that included a discussion on the events last year in Ukraine; when I did another, a few months later, I just updated my files with the latest information and reviewed the whole thing. If I know that this is a recurring topic in my work, for example if I were a staff member at the UN or Council of Europe, I would make sure to enter all the new information every day.

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answered 16 Jan '15, 09:26

JuliaP's gravatar image


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question asked: 30 Sep '12, 07:57

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