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Dear all,

I still find the task of active listening while taking notes incredibly challenging. How could I possibly improve my listening skills? I do practice interpreting speeches almost on a daily basis, but I was wondering whether there was anything else I could do?

What did you do when learning the tricks of the trade?

Thanks in advance for your help!

asked 12 Mar '13, 17:58

Annie's gravatar image


edited 12 Mar '13, 18:20

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Dear Annie,

Searching the internet you will find many websites such as these

with general tipps on how to improve one's active listening skills, many of which are also useful for interpreters.

It is, however, really helpful to find out how YOUR mind and memory work best. Try to find out whether you are able to memorize more if you write less or whether it is more helpful for you to translate the speaker's words into "images" which you then might find easier to note down than the sequence of words.

It is also useful to learn how to draw mindmaps. For some speeches or presentations they work best when it comes to taking notes and reproducing what the speaker wanted to convey. It is helpful to somewhat analyse what the speaker is saying, try to get the intention behind the words - it helps me to remember more and I find that I need to write down less.

However, don't forget that there are speakers and speakers - some speakers' messages are easier to grasp than others' and once it gets really tough we might have to ask the speaker to stop after shorter intervals or maybe say a few sentences more so we can get a better idea of what he/she wants to get at.

So in a nutshell: It's a matter of a.) practice and b.) finding out how every one of us works best

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answered 12 Mar '13, 18:26

AlmuteL's gravatar image


Dear Almute,

Thank you for all the input. I found the links you shared very interesting, especially the first one. I also like the idea of using mindmaps. I'll definitely give it a try. Thank you again for your kind advice!

(13 Mar '13, 15:13) Annie

Hi Annie,

Without knowing you personally it's tough to diagnose your problems. If your problem is choosing what to note and how to note it, then here are a few exercises for you, aimed at noting a little bit less and listening a little bit more. This should ease you into the dual task of full listening and full note-taking at the same time.

You can find many more in this book... (apologies to all for the advert)

  1. Note on a single page

When listening to a speech that you are going to interpret consecutively set yourself the task of taking all your notes on a single piece of paper (not bigger than A4!). This limitation will force you to think more about what you are hearing, what you are noting and how the relationships between parts of the speech can be expressed on the page. You should see the structure of the speech start to appear more clearly on the page.

  1. Take notes after the speech

Listen to a speech without taking notes. When the speech has been completed, make some notes that will help you to reproduce the speech. Give a consecutive rendering of the speech. By hearing the whole speech first and only then making notes we have a picture of the entire speech which we must analyse in order to make the most useful notes possible. Our notes are therefore much more likely to reflect the structure and the underlying meaning of the speech than the individual words that we often get hung up on.

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answered 13 Mar '13, 04:12

Andy's gravatar image


Hi Annie

Without knowing you personally it's tough to diagnose your problems. Your problem might be that your note-taking system isn't automatic enough. As a result you have to think too much about how to note something and that diverts intellectual capacity away from listening.

If that is the case you should practice note-taking, according to, and applying, a sound system and with a view to making that system as automatic as possible.

  1. Take notes from speech transcripts first (no time pressure when taking the notes), then from slow easy speeches, and then from normal speeches. Go through the notes you took from spoken speeches and "correct" them. What elements of your note-taking technique went AWOL under time-pressure? How can you avoid that next time?

  2. You can also practice your note-taking technique by preparing the speeches you give to other students in practice sessions in consecutive note-taking form. This is a good exercise for practising not only writing clear and well-structured notes, but also for reading back those notes (when you give the speech)

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answered 13 Mar '13, 04:20

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Hi Andy

Thank you for your suggestions. I definitely plan on having a go at them. I just did a couple of speeches and I caught myself wondering how to note this and that, and obviously in precisely that moment I missed out on information. My note-taking system is far from being perfect, but I still do have some moments when I manage to get on top of things. As you suggested, it probably isn't automatic enough.

Funny enough, one of my trainers thinks I'm not taking enough notes and another one advised me to take less notes and listen more instead. I'm not too sure what to do, because I simply fear that if I take too many notes, I won't be listening as carefully as I should. But whenever I take less notes, I end up missing out on so many details, and I don't always manage to jot down what actually really matters. That's what led me to think that I'm probably not listening actively enough. I never seem to be able to strike the right balance between listening and note-taking!

(13 Mar '13, 16:13) Annie

Whether you note a lot or a little, you still have to listen. So my advice would be to 1. make sure you're listening and then 2. see what you can note down without stopping listening. Initially that will probably mean noting only the main points and missing some detail, but the detail will come later, either from memory or from your notes. Choosing what to note is very important. So the first thing to do is listen and work out what is going on. Then note a summary of that. That summary might well remind you of the detail.

(14 Mar '13, 03:58) Andy

Dear Andy, Thanks again for your advice! The exercises you suggested were a great help. I've also given myself the habit of preparing my speeches while using my note-taking technique and it's working just fine. Much better than I expected! :)

Thank you!

(25 Mar '13, 14:33) Annie
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question asked: 12 Mar '13, 17:58

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