Memory Techniques: Test Your Knowledge

These days on the training course at the ULL, it’s all about memory. Students are spending their days desperately trying to improve their memory skills so that they can survive the first module of the course, during which they are trained to remember – without the use of notes – the substance and structure of speeches up to five minutes in length.

The question I am going to address today is not so much how one can go about improving one’s memory (although we’ll look at that in a minute), but why in Bog’s name it is considered necessary to have this introductory module in the first place. Test your knowledge about memory and interpreting by taking this brief quiz.


1) Memory exercises were invented by sadistic interpreting trainers as a way to make the first few days of their students’ training sheer hell.

2) Although having a good memory can be useful, it isn’t really necessary for interpreters, a good since note-taking technique will spare them having to remember information.

3) Memory exercises are intended to teach students how to memorize information.

4) Giving classes on memory is a good way to break the ice during the initial phase of an interpreter training course.

5) The first classes on memory techniques allow trainers to get a good idea of what their students are like and what they can expect of them over the course of their interpreter training.

6) Doing memory exercises helps students learn how to listen actively, and teaches them to identify and analyse the underlying structure of what they are hearing.

7) Reproducing a remembered speech helps students learn how to synthesize and reformulate discourse effectively.

8 ) If you don’t learn proper memory techniques first, you will have a very hard time ever learning consecutive and simultaneous techniques.

While readers are mulling those statements over, let’s look briefly at what is written about interpreting and memory. In response to a student’s query about what sort of background reading might be helpful when trying to hone memory techniques, I dug up this list of memory improvement techniques (courtesy of Interpreter Training Resources, which is the place I always go whenever I need to find something, since I know that if it is out there, they will have found it first!).

Bootheando has also written about memory in a post entitled Ejercitando las memorias. Another post of hers looks at how contact with nature can improve memory (that’s it, my next class will be held out on the campus quad!).

Anyone looking for a more academic approach to the same question might want to read this article on Memory Training in Interpreting, or this one on Working Memory and Simultaneous Interpreting. These are just two of the many scholarly articles that are out there on the topic. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to everything that is said about memory out there, at least the presence of these articles are testimony to the fact that the business of memory and interpreting is taken rather seriously – and not just by all those poor, sweaty-palmed students suffering through the first days of classes…




To the answers to the quiz, now. To me at least, all of the above statements are true except two – and if you can’t guess which two are false, you might want to sign up for one of my classes ;). As for the remaining six, I listed them in ascending order of importance. So the last ones on the list are what it’s all about, really.

9 thoughts on “Memory Techniques: Test Your Knowledge

  1. Hi ,thank u for this piece it is really interesting.
    As interpreter.myself i always use my short-term memory and incourage my trainees not to overload their memories
    once agin thanks a million 🙂
    have a nice day

  2. Michelle, una bonísima entrada, as usual!

    La memoria lo es todo incluso cuando se tiende a pensar que no es nada y que con una buena técnica de toma de notas queda todo solucionado. Nada más lejos de la realidad, sin una buena memoria y unas buenas técnicas de memorización, las notas pueden resultar jeroglíficas…

    ¡Que vaya bien esa clase al aire libre! 😉

  3. Hi Michelle, Thanks for a nice and fun post as usual. Memory exercises are always despised by students in the beginning before they realise how much they can actually remember.
    And for the benefit of Mervat – research is pretty much in agreement that your short term memory is very short it covers (depending on the definition of STM) from split-seconds to seconds.
    Therefore the term working memory is more and used in context such as interpreting where you need to remember things on a short term basis but things that are not required to be recorded in the long term memory.
    Timarova’s article referd to in this post is a good reference.

    • Thanks for your comments – highly valued, as ever! Do you have any other references on memory that you can recommend readers? Some of my students are eager to do background reading and don’t know where quite where to go.

      I can’t remember where I read it, but this whole idea that the mind can retain an average of seven pieces of information is something that I find interesting, because I find my own memory really does tend to give out after seven. But I find I can extend that limit by creating subsets of information (for each of the seven “headings”), and by branching down like that, I tend to cover quite a bit. As long as each heading doesn’t have more than seven sub-branches each ;).

  4. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Oct 10-16) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  5. Pingback: Y llegó la interpretación consecutiva… | El blog del MIC de la ULL

Leave a Reply to Mervat Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.