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.