The Feng Shui of Note-Taking

Much has been written and tears of despair have been shed in the name of Consecutive Interpreting and note-taking skills – two of the biggest challenges any interpreter may encounter.

Here is my own recipe for note-taking based on the wonderful teachings of my professors back in the day and Mr. Rozan’s technique.

I will leave all the frenzy about symbols for later so we can focus on step one: location, location, location, and something I like to call the Feng Shui of Note-Taking.

Let’s get started.

Whatever you do and however you take your notes, you should NEVER, EVER, forget that note-taking is an aid to your memory and does not replace it.

This means that it is secondary to what you retain in your memory and that, if anything, it acts as a trigger helping you recall what has to be conveyed. Think of it as your grocery list.

Unless you are my dad (a super organised and methodical engineer), I doubt you would ever write your grocery list like this:

2 packs of 4 individual low-fat strawberry yogurt

1 box of granola with raisins, oats, almonds, and sesame seeds

1 tube of mint-flavoured toothpaste

Most likely, your grocery list would look somewhat like this:

Yogurt 2×4

Granola 1

Toothpaste 1

See, you do not need to write down anything else, because you already know what kind of yogurt, granola, and toothpaste you like. That information is stored in your memory and the list acts only as a trigger reminding you of what you need to get. This is how, in very lay terms, note-taking works.

Now, let’s Feng-shui things up.

What you write is important but where write in on your sheet of paper also matters. And quite a lot, actually.


I did not use the example of a grocery list for no reason. Quite coincidentally, verticality is one of the most important principles of Note-taking, since it is easier to write down a list of items and to then follow that list as we interpret. Also, having the items displayed in a list allows us to alter the order, move up and down the list, and cross out what we say as we render our interpretation.


But what if I wanted to get two different flavours of yogurt? Or what if I wanted to try the new individual packs of granola? Then, I would probably write my list like this:


2 strawberry

2 vanilla



                           + Individual

What I have done here is called decalage. I created an invisible staircase where the top step always contains the main idea and the subsequent steps list any other information related or subordinated to that main idea.

Just like in my first list, this stair case system allows me to move through the content of the message as I put together the target language version of it. This way, I can for example start at the bottom, in those lower steps that I may not have had time to jot down so carefully and instead committed to memory, and then work my way up to the first idea or I can also easily alter the order of the main ideas provided I know the relation between them and keep my rendering clear and true to the original message.

Connection bar

That is what the so-call connection bar is for. It is just a blank vertical line on the left margin of the page where we only note down the relation between main ideas. Therefore, this special margin only contains connectors and conjunctions or their equivalent symbols.

This way, I can start with the first idea and move down the list or start with the second or even the third idea and move up and down my notes.

Separation line

Finally, the final touch to my note-taking Feng-shui-ing is the separation line. A simple horizontal line indicating where each speaker ended their statement and I rendered my target language version.

By methodically using this line, I am spared the anxiety of trying to find the last note interpreted while the audience awaits, a horror I do not wish upon anyone, much less a consecutive interpreter.

Here you can see the four principles in action:

Note-taking for consecutive interpreting

Oh, yes, regardless of whether you use a traditional notepad, a tablet or do sim-consec, note-taking is still best done by hand!

‘There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.’ ~Unknown

Useful Resources

Photo taken by me during a stroll down Regent’s Canal and Little Venice.

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One Comment on The Feng Shui of Note-Taking

  1. Howard Youarn

    Extremely helpful & indeed very useful. That is when one have booking/engage in these type of assignment/job.