Conference interpreting – Memory exercises for conference interpreting

Esercizi di memoria per l’interpretariato di conferenza

Is it possible to store a large amount of information in real time? Absolutely, conference interpreters do it every day: they listen, understand, memorize, translate and speak, all at the same time.

Conference interpreting is a complex activity, which can only be mastered with adequate preparation. In this article, we present some exercises to work on and improve a key skill for a conference interpreter: short-term memory.

Because for an interpreter it is important to train short-term memory

Memory plays an important role in every stage of the interpretive process. Adequate functioning of short-term memory involves:

  • Effective processing of sounds into known words and, subsequently, into blocks of information, with the help of long-term memory to fill in the blanks;
  • Effective archiving of these portions of information;
  • The appropriate retrieval of information.

Conference interpreting: exercises for effective memory

The memory exercises should simulate conference interpreting as well as possible.

For the development of short-term memory, it is necessary to use short texts, in which individual words can be contextualized and preserved as portions of information connected to each other, rather than as simple phonetic units.

The exercises we propose here can be used by an interpreter, by a group of interpreters working together or by a trainer who is conducting an interpreting course.


The shadow exercise consists in repeating what the speaker says, word for word, in the same language. Typically, the interpreter will be a word or two behind the speaker. This delay can increase as the interpreter gets used to the exercise. Shadowing is important because it teaches the interpreter to listen and speak at the same time, but it is also very useful for memory development, forcing you to memorize and recall small groups of sounds, words and bits of information over a relatively short period of time. brief.

Shadowing with pause

Pause shadowing is a variant of the first exercise, in which the repetition takes place after a short pause by the speaker. The intention is to simulate consecutive interpreting and to have the interpreter focus specifically on memory.

Identification of key elements

This exercise focuses on listening carefully to a text and requires its main elements to be selected and retained in memory. After listening, you will want to be able to answer basic questions such as those of the five Ws derived from the journalistic tradition (who? what? where? when? why?).

Progressively expand the ability to remember

This exercise is based on multiple levels of information recall. Here's how it works. The interpreter listens to a text of 50-60 words and identifies the main ideas. After a second listen, he should be able to add more detail to the main ideas. On the third and final listen, she should further flesh out her account, putting all the details into it.

As the interpreter becomes more adept at remembering, the number of listening can be reduced and the size of the texts can increase. The ultimate goal is to be able to reproduce all the details in a speech of about 50 words after listening to it only once.


Segmentation involves dividing a portion of information, both oral and written, into two or more smaller chunks of information.

The interpreter should be able to read a sentence only once and then segment it. The texts to be used for segmentation should contain long sentences and lots of information.

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