According to the Atkinson-Shiffrin model of memory, our short-term, or working memory, retains chunks of information for 15-30 seconds. That’s just long enough to reuse it. This is what makes interpreting in real-time very hard and highly stressful. Simultaneous interpretation requires your brain to work two modalities at once, perception and production, which is a difficult task at best. But just as there are ways to improve long-term memory, there are exercises for short-term memory as well.
Short-term memory processing
There are some tips on processing the incoming information to help give you flexibility and buy your brain a little more time before spitting it back out correctly. One technique to practice is anticipation. You know that annoying friend that constantly finishes your sentences before you? Interpreters are masters of this. Anticipate what someone is attempting to say, and you can get a jump start on processing that information and turning it around.
Increasing cognitive flexibility
A favorite of interpreters is the cloze test. This is basically “fill in the blanks” with a little twist. Have someone take an ordinary sentence and take out a key word or two. Look at the sentence and fill in the blank with as many appropriate terms that will work.
My wife wants to _____ a table for tonight.
Make a reservation for
Call the restaurant for
All of those answers work. The more you find, the more flexible you are in speaking and the quicker you’ll be able to interpret on the spot correctly.
Sleep and nutrition
Whether you are cramming for a test using memory tricks, or trying to improve short-term memory, sleep and nutrition always play a role. Sleep is easy. Find the time go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep regularly without interruption. Your brain needs rest to organize and let those new neural connections flourish. For nutrition, eat brain-healthy foods. Get those OMEGA 3 fatty acids in your diet. Fish, such as tuna and salmon with the skin, is particularly high in OMEGA 3 and DHA. Wrap those is some seaweed and you are priming the memory pump with full octane. Eat your veggies, including plenty of dark, leafy greens. Better yet, take those leafy greens and top them with walnuts and some berries for a delectable memory salad.
The processes of our brain and how its connections work is the most complicated system known to man. While we don’t know everything, what we do know is that nutrition and regular exercise keeps it in top working condition and can open up new neural pathways throughout life. If you’re an interpreter who wants to improve your working memory, and possibly your salary, don’t forget to try these tips!