Unlocking Visualization Will Make You A Remarkable Interpreter

interpreter visualizing

Visualization is a critical skill. That means, it takes time to develop a technique and practice it. In this article I tell you a piece of history about visualizing techniques and a how to use it.

It happens too often in a classroom or training sessions that highly technical skills are described and explained in overly simplistic terms. Here I will lay out for you how I came to discover a framework for visualization. It is a framework which is as effective as it is fascinating.   

The technique is embodied in what’s called the method of loci or the memory palace technique. ​

The origin of visualizing

Its history begins more than two thousand years ago at a banquet hall in ancient Greece. Imagine with me, a brilliant white banquet hall made of solid marble rising high into the air. At this marvelous banquet were noble people, dignitaries, merchants, artists, writers and poets. 

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Visualization is a critical skill for reproducing long, dense, emotionally charged narratives.

The latter two are the most important to this scenario. Writers in ancient times had to check out a singular copy of a scroll. So, they may have only seen a scroll just once in their lifetimes. Information then, as it is now, is extremely valuable. So, the writers and scholars  developed techniques for memorizing the entirety of the document! 

These documents or scrolls may have extended hundreds of feet. 

So, all of a sudden during this grand banquet, after the main course was served, an earthquake struck. It brought down the marble on top of the guests. Everyone perished except for one writer. This writer, according to the oral history, happened to step out to use the restroom. The catastrophe was absolute. The townspeople wanted to find their loved ones. However, no one knew who was in attendance. No one knew where anyone was sitting. 

The poet, as it turns out in this anecdote, was Simonides. He was a Greek poet of the fifth and sixth centuries BC. He comes forth after the dust settled and approached the townspeople. He took them one by one to where their loved ones may be. He was able to even recount the finer details like what they were wearing.

Today, neuroscientists might call this ability elaborative encoding.

What's the technique?

The technique is simple. You associate memories by adding cues such as:

  • visual
  • spatial
  • auditory
  • olfactory

I must admit, for unstructured information, such as that of testimony, this idea is pretty new. I would like to see research and techniques developed further. Doing this on-the-fly requires regular practice, but even if you apply the general idea of feeling, hearing, and tasting you will reap benefits. You can start with simply seeing what works for you.

I’ve thought about providing you with examples, but I don’t want to sound prescriptive. As you take notes, force yourself to associate the words you are hearing with the imagery, sounds and smells of the narrative.

Because proper names and numbers are abstract, you will find adding visualization techniques for memorizing them particularly useful. For example, you might invent your own mnemonics for the numbers 0-9.  

I think interpreting technique in general, reliable interpreting technique, as an esoteric practice. As such, mastering long consecutive is the hallmark of a master interpreter. Performing it competently requires significant experience before it can be attempted.

Interpreters use brushstrokes

Taking it one step further, it is not necessarily something to learn in a classroom. In much the same way that an artist may learn the fundamentals of light and shadow with a teacher but really, the skill of observing is mastered only through private daily practice. Developing good technique for any skill then is a result of inner dialogue, searching and researching what people had done before you, and then at some point, discovering what works for you and the way that you think.

In this sense, reformulation in interpretation is akin to brushwork. If you have ever looked at a portrait by John singer Sargent you will see that he is able to create the illusion of light and shadow with one continuous simple stroke. It is the difference between choosing several words or just one word, or phrasing a statement as something concrete and literal compared to something like a metaphor.  

Managing cognitive load is similar to producing ever more efficient strokes.

In my experience, people generally don’t visualize much if at all. If you have experience using visualization techniques, I’d like to hear from you. Some interpreters may do fine without increasing or fine tuning their visualization skill.

But for particularly challenging or long testimony I believe one important benefit is managing cognitive load, and this may help you.  

Elaborative encoding could hold value for interpreters, any interpreter. If you would like to increase your accuracy, reduce cognitive load, and manage stress, this technique is worth working into your practice. Moreover, mastering long consecutive is a way to differentiate your skills from other interpreters.

How to be remarkable

As getting jobs now is more difficult than ever, give yourself the best opportunity to impress clients. For all we must do to be competent as linguists your service is a black box to clients. Differentiating one person’s skill from the other is virtually impossible. However, sitting next to a witness and re-formulating passionate testimony and front of a crowded courtroom is going to get you kudos. 

Finally, I’ve known colleagues who shy away from lengthy testimony, regularly interrupting the speaker. I bristle at the “lost in translation” aphorism. But unfortunately, if you are interrupting the speaker too often, something is lost. Integrating aspects of the method of loci or elaborative encoding is going to give your a longer runway to help you prevent interruptions.

So, give it a shot! Set aside fifteen minutes sometime this week and see what you come up with. I recommend reading the book or watching the Ted talk. At a minimum those will get you thinking. 

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