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Memory And Interpretation

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Memory and Interpretation

by Hsienche Liu

Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation

Of National Chunghua University of Education


This article mainly discusses the different categories and two different modes of interpretation. It also touches slightly on the interplay of interpretation and memory. Short-term memory is extremely important in interpretation. This paper analyzes different kinds of memory and their application for the interpreter’s training. This paper presents three types of memories which are sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. This paper goes on discussing about the major characteristic of these three memories. Through the memory’s point of view, the paper further discusses the implication for the memory in training an interpreter. This paper also tells about some steps to hone simultaneous interpreting skills so as to improve interpreting skills not only quickly but also effectively.

Key Words: Sensory Memory, Short-term Memory, Long-term Memory, Interpretation, Effort Model

Review of Literature

In Memory Training in Interpreting (Weihe Zhong 2003):

The idea of short-term memory simply means that you are retaining information for a short period of time without creating the neural mechanisms for later recall. Long-term memory occurs when you have created neural pathways for storing ideas and information which can then be recalled weeks, moths, or even years later. (p.3)

From this passage we can observe the difference between these two different types of memory. Because of their different characteristics, they can apply to diverse situation in which interpretation is performed. Since they are extremely important, they deserve to be delved into and carefully studied. If there is a way to improve or enhance them significantly, it would be a blessing to those who are eager to be interpreters for they can discover a way to do their job more efficiently.

1. What is Memory?

Memory adverts to the storage, retention and recall of information which is consisted of past experiences, knowledge and thoughts. Memory for detailed information can change extremely according to the individual and the individual’s state of mind. It can also vary along with the information itself. For this reason, if the information which is new or intriguing has the tendency to be remembered than that is boring or commonplace.

The accurate and exact biological causation of memory is not fully comprehended and grasped. But most scientists believe that memory results from changes in connections or connection strengths between neurons in the brain.

2. Categories of Memory

Psychologists have long discovered that memory is consisted of two different parts. One lasts longer than the other. In 1890, according to William James, he defined memory as primary memory and secondary memory. He has helped lay the foundation for modern memory studies. But afterward, psychologists and memory researchers are mainly discussing memory for the duration they are expected to last and therefore, call them short-term memory and long-term memory.

2.1 Sensory Memory

Sensory memory refers to the fact that after experiencing a stimulus, information about this stimulus is shortly stored in the memory in the exact form that it was received. Usually, sensory memories could only last for only a few seconds before it decays or be overwritten by new information. While they last, sensory memories contain very specific information about the stimulus. Sensory memories allow us to take a quick look at our surrounding and to retain the information for only a short period. Only information that is transferred to another level of memory will be preserved no more than for a few seconds.

Even if sensory system does not send any information anymore, sensory memory still can take hold of a short impression of sensory information. Sensory is closely related to with the transduction of energy (change form one to another). The environment provides our senses a great amount of sources of information such as sound, smell, heat, light, cold etc., but the brain only understand electrical energy. For this reason, the body has very special sensory receptor cells that convert the external energy into something that our brain can understand. During this process, memory is created. This memory is very short (less than 1/2 second for vision; about 3 seconds for hearing).

2.2 Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory refers to memories which last for a few seconds. Short-term memory is not like sensory memory because sensory memory is stored in the exact form it was experienced. Sensory memory becomes short-term memory when it receives some “processes”. Therefore information can be put into short-term memory from information processed through the sensory memory. Information from short-term memory has the probability of being stored in long-term memory if the information is repeated.

According to Miller (1956), the capacity of short-term memory has a span of seven “chunks” of information plus or minus two. A “chunk” is referred to as an integrated piece of information such as using a number sequence of “1958-2005-1857” to represent three easily-remembered chunks instead of twelve separate digits, which would be beyond someone’s short-term memory capacity of seven. The reason leads to this phenomenon may sometimes depend on the state of individual’s mind or because of noise or distraction from the testing environment.

Beyond the capacity, new or incoming information could force other items out of short-term memory. This is how forgetting forms. Objects in short-term memory can be of indefinite complexity: thus short-term memory can hold several numbers, or several words, or several complex concepts at the same time. Although an individual may only be able to remember seven random digits or letters, it may still be possible to remember more of them if they are “chunked” or broken down into several meaningful “chunks”. Consequently, the short-term span is measured in terms of items which can be enhanced by increasing the number of items in each chunk. (Baddely



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