Creating assignments for developing students’ memory in written translation

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

Author: Oskolkova Anna, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Within the development of human history the process of interpreting has spread all over the world. The variety of national languages caused the need for interpreters who provided communication of native and non-native speakers of the target language. There is a tendency not to differentiate interpreters and translators, but, originally, interpretation is done verbally (e.g. conference interpreters for the UN) and translation is a written process (e.g. company translators or book editors).

Interpretation is classified into simultaneous (the most complicated kind which requires a lot of mental and physical strength) and consecutive interpretation (when there are fragments to interpret and enough time to do it). The quality of interpretation depends on the range of factors: interpreter’s professional and personal competence, his/her listening skills (or listening comprehension), memory, an ability to speak in public (eloquence) and effective work of interpreter and his/her client (employer). All these qualities or factors are blended (inborn and required) and they can be improved. Language practice and proficiency rely on person’s memory, long-term and short-term memory.

“Healthy body-healthy mind”, such words of wisdom reason the need for memory (mind) training together with the care of your body (as even simple physical exercises supply the brain with oxygen which makes our memory work better). Person’s short term memory gives little time to take the advantage over the process of interpreting. The first pieces of information are kept for half a minute. Regular drilling, repetition and revision send the informative messages into the long-term memory (but we should not confuse it with permanent memory). Our brain can be compared with a huge processor which can remember impressive/exciting information and forget/erase the negative one.

Daniel Gile offers the very effort model for consecutive and simultaneous interpreters. This model shows interpreter’s capacity to receive process and produce the information required. It consists of listening and analysis, memory, production and coordination. Listening implies hearing the speech sounds, utterance and analyzing the meaning. Memory serves as an information store for its future use. Production refers to interpreter’s performance and feedback, his/her output. The knowledge of the language and interpretation proficiency is not complete without interpreter’s ability to manage and adapt to the communicative situation. Together with the knowledge of the speech an interpreter must know the whole agenda of the conference. Big things start small. Every detail is important. Interpreter’s illiteracy and misunderstanding of the situation can spoil the effect.

Both consecutive and simultaneous interpretations contain all the above mentioned elements of the effort model (listening, analysis, memory, production and coordination). Long consecutive interpretation (with note-taking) also requires reconstruction of the speech made by interpreter’s encoded writing and reading of the notes before their production.

Acoustic, visual and semantic perception of the speech checks an interpreter’s aptitude. Visual aids help to hear triads or pairs of words and fit them in the context. In fact, the words with similar sound (e.g. cap-cat) unlike the words with similar meaning (e.g. large-big) can be confused.

We can suggest 6 types of exercises that can help the beginning interpreters improve their memory. These are mnemonics, the link method, note-taking, imagination-association-location, telling a story and general physical exercises. Mnemonics can be described as an individual helping tool for memorizing the audio text in order to reproduce it in the written form. There is no universal way/type of mnemonics. A student can create algorithms, tables, poems or combined words which come from the first letters of the words/terms to remember. The most important thing here is to create a colorful picture in your mind. The brighter the simpler the better.

The link method increases the pace of the task. It is more difficult to remember separate words in the list, so it will be much easier to connect them and put them in one context. Even if the picture becomes non-sense, abstract images are good for visual learners.

Another practical advice is taking notes. There is a separate discipline for future interpreters how to take notes while listening to the original text. Before becoming a conference member an interpreter can practice note-taking with simple texts, poems, fairy-tales, starting with easy texts and ending up with texts of policy and economics.

The forth method (i.e. imagination-association-location) can be compared with a wish map. First of all, you imagine a picture, then connect it with your previous experience combining appropriate feelings, smells and sounds; then we add relevant background – locate it in the context. Such techniques help to remember the information to render and revise the topical vocabulary later.

The fifth way is to tell a story without putting anything down. Learners should reproduce the words, terms and formulas in the target language. Telling a story also develops your listening skills and public speaking mastery.

Finally, the last but not the least is a general physical exercise together with healthy food. Being absorbed with work of interpreting we may easily forget about nourishing food, regular exercise and proper sleep. Good health is a fine contribution to efficient and satisfactory work of an interpreter.

Assessment is a necessary part of the teaching and learning process, helping us measure whether our students have really learned what we want them to learn. While exams and quizzes are certainly favorite and useful methods of assessment, out of class assignments (written or otherwise) can offer similar insights into our students’ learning. And just as creating a reliable test takes thoughtfulness and skill, so does creating meaningful and effective assignments. Undoubtedly, many instructors have been on the receiving end of disappointing student work, left wondering what went wrong… and often, those problems can be remedied in the future by some simple fine-tuning of the original assignment. This paper will take a look at some important elements to consider when developing assignments, and offer some easy approaches to creating a valuable assessment experience for all involved.

Before assigning any major tasks to students, it is imperative that you first define a few things for yourself as the instructor: Your goals for the assignment. Why are you assigning this project, and what do you hope your students will gain from completing it? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you aim to measure with this assignment? Creating assignments is a major part of overall course design, and every project you assign should clearly align with your goals for the course in general.

The levels of your students. What do your students already know, and what can they do when they enter your class? Knowing what your students are (or are NOT) bringing to the table can help you tailor the assignment appropriately for their skill levels, for an assignment that is too challenging can frustrate students or cause them to shut down, while an assignment that is not challenging enough can lead to a lack of motivation. Knowing your students’ levels will help you determine how much direction to provide for them as well.

Once you have determined your own goals for the assignment and the levels of your students, you can begin creating your assignment. However, when introducing your assignment to your students, there are several things you will need to clearly outline for them in order to ensure the most successful assignments possible.

First, you will need to articulate the purpose of the assignment. Even though you know why the assignment is important and what it is meant to accomplish, you cannot assume that your students will intuit that purpose. Your students will appreciate an understanding of how the assignment fits into the larger goals of the course and what they will learn from the process (Hass & Osborn, 2007). Being transparent with your students and explaining why you are asking them to complete a given assignment can ultimately help motivate them to complete the assignment more thoughtfully.

It is also a good idea to define the audience you want your students to address with their assignment, if possible – especially with writing assignments. Otherwise, students will address only the instructor, often assuming little requires explanation or development (Hedengren, 2004; MIT, 1999). Further, asking students to address the instructor, who typically knows more about the topic than the student, places the student in an unnatural rhetorical position. Instead, you might consider asking your students to prepare their assignments for alternative audiences such as other students who missed last week’s classes, a group that opposes their position, or people reading a popular magazine or newspaper. In fact, a study by Bean (1996) indicated the students often appreciate and enjoy assignments that vary elements such as audience or rhetorical context, so don’t be afraid to get creative.

Finally, you should clarify your evaluation criteria for the assignment. What elements of content are most important? Will you grade holistically or weight features separately? How much weight will be given to individual elements, etc? Another precaution to take when defining requirements for your students is to take care that your instructions and rubric also do not overshadow the content; prescribing too rigidly each element of an assignment can limit students’ freedom to explore and discover. According to Beth Finch Hedengren, “A good assignment provides the purpose and guidelines… without dictating exactly what to say” (2004, p. 27). If you decide to utilize a grading rubric, be sure to provide that to the students along with the assignment description, prior to their completion of the assignment.

Determining your goals for the assignment and its essential logistics is a good start to creating an effective assignment. However, there are a few more simple factors to consider in your final design.

Research has shown that students frequently prefer some guiding constraints when completing assignments (Bean, 1996), and that more detail (within reason) can lead to more successful student responses. One idea is to provide students with physical assignment handouts, in addition to or instead of a simple description in a syllabus. This can meet the needs of concrete learners and give them something tangible to refer to. Likewise, it is often beneficial to make explicit for students the process or steps necessary to complete an assignment, given that students – especially younger ones – might need guidance in planning and time management (MIT, 1999).

The most effective and challenging assignments focus on questions that lead students to thinking and explaining, rather than simple yes or no answers, whether explicitly part of the assignment description or in the brainstorming heuristics (Gardner, 2005).

Giving students pointers about other venues for assistance can help them get started on the right track independently. These kinds of suggestions might include information about campus resources such as the University Writing Center or discipline-specific librarians, suggesting specific journals or books, or even sections of their textbook, or providing them with lists of research ideas or links to acceptable websites.

In their study, Hass and Osborn (2007) confirmed the importance of personal engagement for students when completing an assignment. Indeed, students will be more engaged in an assignment if it is personally meaningful, practical, or purposeful beyond the classroom. You might think of ways to encourage students to tap into their own experiences or curiosities, to solve or explore a real problem, or connect to the larger community. Offering variety in assignment selection can also help students feel more individualized, creative, and in control.

Ultimately, the success of student responses to an assignment often rests on the instructor’s deliberate design of the assignment. By being purposeful and thoughtful from the beginning, you can ensure that your assignments will not only serve as effective assessment methods, but also engage and delight your students. If you would like further help in constructing or revising an assignment, the Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center is glad to offer individual consultations. In addition, look into some of the resources provided below.


1. Eysenck, W. M. 2005. Psychology for AS Level, New York: Psychology Press Inc.

2. Gillies, A. 2005. Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting, Manchester, St Jerome Publishing

3. Hopper, H. C. 2010. Practicing College. Learning Strategies, Belmont: Wadsworth

4. Kellogg, R.T. 2003. Cognitive Psychology. London: Sage Publications

5. Leeson, L. 2005. “Making the Effort in Simultaneous Interpreting” in Topics in Signed Language Interpreting: Theory and Practice, ed. by Terry Janzen, Benjamins, Philadelphia

6. Soanes, C., Stevenson, A, and Hawker, S.(eds.) 2006 Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Computer Software) (11th ed.).Oxford, Oxford University Press.

7. Zhong, W., 2003. “Memory Training in Interpreting” in Translation Journal, available at: http:// translationjournal. net/ journal/ 25 interpret. htm [accessed March 2011]

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

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