The Importance of Note-taking during medical Interpretation
Medical interpreters are typically required to translate conversations orally. As such, one may
wonder why many of them will arrive with a note-pad and pen ready at hand.
There are, however, several very good reasons for this. The first of this reason is to simply
remember everything that is being said. A doctor or other health official explaining an illness, or the cause of an
illness, treatments options, procedures and so on, does rarely wish to be continually interrupted in order for the
interpreter to pass on fragments of what he is saying.
Apart from this, it is often also very difficult to interpret chunks of a whole, making it necessary
to get the whole story before attempting to interpret any of it.
By taking notes of what is being said while the doctor is speaking, the interpreter makes sure that
none of the information to be passed on will be forgotten by the time it comes to interpreting it. Naturally this
also helps keeping things in the right order.
Vital information will consequently passed on to patients in full and clear enough for them to
understand, as opposed to missing bits out, or adding something that should have come after a particular piece of
information much later, because it has only just been remembered.
In the same way, interpreters will take note of questions raised or comments made by the patient, in
order to ensure all their questions will be answered fully.
In other words, taking notes enables an interpreter to give patients a fluent, complete account of
what is being said to them, while also informing the doctor correctly of what patients are saying or asking in
Taking notes ensures that nothing of importance will be forgotten during interpretation, a risk that
can lead to all sorts of problems if no notes have been taken. On occasion, taking the time to make notes also
gives an opportunity to think more clearly about the correct terms to use during the
Secondly, it gives interpreters a chance to look back and review their work at a later stage,
perhaps learning from minor mistakes they have made or using their notes to update personal translation memory
tools which will enable them to keep continually up to date with new developments, etc.
Finally, having taken notes of the conversations in progress may also come in handy if at some stage
or another a patient claims that they were not told about something they should have been informed about during the
By looking back over these notes, interpreters will be able to confirm or deny such accusations
without having to spend hours trying to remember who said what when and why.
The importance of notes being taken during interpretation is clearly very high. Taking notes ensures
that patients are told everything there is to be said without vital parts of the information being missed out, as
well as providing a back-up of information should it be required at any time.