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Some years after the graduation, I would like to take an exam which includes a classic 6-minute consec. However, I am faced with a problem that I didn't have during my CI studies: it looks like I've developed terrible handwriting. It's so bad that in most of the speeches there are a few spots in my notes which are virtually impossible to decipher, which is how I end up missing nuances and details here and there, and not because I haven't understood them or that I am unable to express them.

Other than that, I think my notes are fine, i.e. they seem to have the right structure, the right amount of content (I don't write excessively; if anything, maybe I could even note down a bit more), they could include more symbols and be a bit more organized, but they really don't seem bad at all. At times, it feels a bit as if the process of understanding, analyzing and writing down was so simple/automatic that I stumble over the sheer mechanics of writing. Which is not all that surprising, considering that in the world of computers and typing I just don't write much by hand these days. I do interpret consecutively quite regularly but it's usually in pieces of up to ca. 2 minutes, plus all is set in the context of a meeting, which makes it much easier to rely on my memory even if my handwriting is not particularly neat.

Do you have any suggestions as to how to practice in order to remedy that quickly and efficiently? I find it quite frustrating at the moment, and I don't really feel like trying to relearn/reinvent my note-taking technique from scratch ;).

asked 07 Jul '18, 09:12

Joanna's gravatar image


As someone who has the worst handwriting and never managed to improve it, I know the frustration. I'm not sure which one would take the longest to be honest: adapting your notaking or relearning to write... Personnally I avoid words at all costs by using mostly drawings and symbols. If I absolutely have to write down a word, I write it in capital letters as it is usually easier to read and it also forces me to slow down and make an effort to make it readable. To practice, I simply take an article from the newspaper and rewrite it with notes.

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answered 07 Jul '18, 09:25

Camille%20Collard's gravatar image

Camille Collard

I have the same problem. What's worse, I write poorly and slow...sometimes when the speakers get fast, I would find myself drawing doodles or writing and correcting my strokes over and over in a painfully slow speed. I think introducing more symbols in my notetaking system is a viable solution, but then the problem becomes how do I develop symbols for so many different concepts?

(14 Jul '18, 03:02) EliChang

I've just realized I've never thanked you for your advice!

Half a year later, I can say I've managed to improve my notes a bit but I'm still far from being happy.

A few words about what works and doesn't work for me (maybe someone will find this useful. And I'll be obviously grateful for some extra advice, I promise to thank you straight away :)):

  • My regular handwriting style is connected cursive and at speed, it comes dangerously close to a funny wavy line with no recognizable shapes of letters whatsoever ;). What helps me a bit in consec is trying to write separate letters instead of joined-up ones. Then I usually end up with connected cursive anyway, but at least it looks tidier :).

  • "Camille is probably right that it can only be words that are illegible and symbols are not." - well, believe me or not, but I I am perfectly capable of writing down some illegible symbols from time to time :). But I do agree that replacing words with symbols is a good method, I gotta work on that.

  • I wish I could replace words with drawings but this is a hard one, I'm a really bad drawer and I don't 'think' in images. I do try to draw something here and there but I wouldn't put much hope into this, so I actually envy you, Camille :)

  • I gotta say when I read half a year ago what you, Andy, wrote ("I'm not sure I believe you when you say you are not noting too much! ;)") I wasn't all that eager to agree with your diagnosis :). Now I'm starting to see this. I don't think I write a LOT but I definitely could write less.

  • One thing that seems to help me to write less and in a more legible way, and which has probably improved my notes most, is increasing the décalage between listening and writing. This way I analyze more what I hear, reflect on what I really need to write down, and probably also remember the speech better. What is in your opinion the optimal time span in note-taking?

  • Empty brackets! That's a magical way of remembering things without necessarily writing them down :)

Other than that, I think I have to go through my notes more frequently, identifying the main problem triggers and developing methods to deal with them. This did wonders to me when I was still a diligent CI student :). It's a pity I'm not half as diligent and motivated to work on my notes these days ;).

Andy, would you explain what telescoping is? Further ideas for note-taking exercises, including exercises that help you write less, would be welcome, too.

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answered 04 Feb '19, 16:21

Joanna's gravatar image



Glad to hear you're making progress. Empty brackets are brilliant! I don't think there is a standard décalage. Just like in SIM lag in consec varies depending on how much information you need to hear to write down something useful. That depends on general knowledge, speed of language comprehension (quicker from A), ability to analyse, anticipation and more. And so lag will vary for the same interpreter throughout any speech as well as from one interpreter to another for the same part of any speech.
Telescoping was an exercise suggested by Rozan ... it goes like this TELESCOPING Take a set of consecutive notes you have just produced while listening to a speech. Go through them and try to create a shorter set of notes from which you would still be able to reproduce the original speech. Under pressure we often note things that afterwards we realise were of no help to us at all. Revising your notes after the speech, without that time pressure you will find there are many ‘improvements’ and shortcuts that you can make in your notes. Regularly doing this exercise will help you to note more succinctly while listening in the future.

(08 Feb '19, 16:50) Andy

I have terrible hand-writing and when I go back to consecutive after a period away I have the same problem as you - the very dangerous situation of illegible squiggles on the page. For me however the solution is always that because I am out of practice my note-taking - although structured - is not efficient. I write too much, and sometimes redundant things, sometimes not the right thing to prompt my memory. All of this means I have to write more and faster, which worsens the situation.

I'm not sure I believe you when you say you are not noting too much! ;) If you're writing is bad it's most likely you are writing too quickly. So you are writing too much for your hand to cope with. So my first suggestion is to write more slowly. I found changing ballpoint pens to one that flowed LESS smoothly forced me to write more slowly and helped.

Try going through you notes and looking at where they were illegible. Your notes may be OK in general but they probably aren't in those places where they are not legible. I think you'll find those parts of the notes contain too many notes; not quite the right note to prompt memory and are less well organised. 'Correct' your notes and or do those parts of a speech again (in practice sessions).

Camille is probably right that it can only be words that are illegible and symbols are not. Can you replace some recurring but longish words with symbols?

There are lots of exercises to try to note less: telescoping; taking notes left-handed (if you're right-handed to improve your choice of the note taken); or simply deliberately trying to note as little as possible while listening. (All to be done while practising not working for real of course!)

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answered 09 Jul '18, 02:20

Andy's gravatar image


Taking less notes does not cut it when you're doing a technical meeting with lots of figures, product or legal references, etc, which is precisely the sort of meeting that uses consec over simul.

(13 Jul '18, 16:06) Vincent Buck

So what is your suggestion Vincent? Learning to write quicker?

(18 Aug '18, 12:15) Andy

Hello, you should read the note taking manual by Virginia Valencia.

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answered 14 Mar '19, 12:57

Binetwish's gravatar image


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question asked: 07 Jul '18, 09:12

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