by Douglas Fróes
There is a story, told by Marcus Tullius Cicero, that Simonides of Ceos was attending a dinner at the house of a nobleman named Scopas. After reciting his poem, the story goes that Simonides received a message asking him to go outside to meet someone. When he got there, he couldn’t find anyone waiting for him. While he was away, the whole hall’s roof fell, crushing Scopas and all guests attending the banquet to death.
The only way to identify the wholly smashed bodies so their families could bury them was Simonides’ organized memory techniques. He could recall where every guest was seated at the table.
Simonides of Ceos was believed to be the first to teach and create a memorization method. Since the beginning of time, people have needed to organize information. Without easy writing or information storage devices; the most prominent minds needed to rely on mental skills to gather and retain critical information.
With the evolution of technology, we were gifted with equipment that could make our lives quite comfortable and easy to deal with. Although this new technology made daily tasks easier to accomplish, part of it was not so beneficial to us. We started relying on technology more than we rely on our most natural informational tool: our brain.
As a result of this, I have begun to study and practice the art of having a well-trained memory, which in my humble opinion is one of the key components of a highly skilled and operative thinking brain. If we cannot retain all the information needed to accomplish our daily tasks in a well-organized manner, all other mental skills don’t serve us much. It would be like a having high-speed processor PC without a functional hard drive.
As translators, we need to constantly research terms in areas that we are not so knowledgeable about and examine reference materials to maintain consistency across different files from the same content or client. Most of you, reading this piece, work with different clients with distinct style guides regarding format, grammar, formality, etc. How many times a week do you have to go through the guidelines before starting a new task? How many times does the KNP (Known Names and Places consistency list) you are provided not include some plot-pertinent terms used in a show’s previous season or the first trilogy movie? In my case, as I mostly do quality control, one of my primary concerns is to maintain consistency across previous and new materials that are related. Sometimes this is hard to achieve when you have, as an example, the first season and second season of a show being translated by different translators and you want to keep consistency with terms that are not present in the KNP.
EN – Dear…
BPO – Caro…
EN – Dear…
BPO – Querido…
Both translators are correct as either “Caro” or “Querido” would work as a translation for “Dear” in Brazilian Portuguese. Although both are valid, they differ in formality.
The above example happened to me a while ago, and it was a critical and recurrent term on a show where the translator from season one was not the translator on season two. There was a gap of almost a year and thousands of other projects between seasons.
Regardless of the time that had passed, as soon as I hit play on the new episode and that same subtitle came on screen, even with a different translation, it triggered an automatic response that alerted me to the inconsistency. And this is something that happens to me more often than you would expect.
It sounds like fiction, but this happens when you train your memory, using various techniques with practical exercises often. You get to the point where your brain starts to work for you without much effort, recalling information faster, making you feel a bit like you have superpowers. And I can assure you, that feels great.
Then, you will start noticing how effortless the same tasks you were used to having turned to be. How much your productivity has improved and the amount of time you will have left for yourself every day. And all of that will change your life. Believe me.
The Linking Method
The following is a practical exercise where you can see almost immediate results in the development of your mental abilities by using the linking method.
Below you will see a series of names of objects, animals, etc.
You have three minutes to try and memorize all of them in the exact order they are listed only using your memory, i.e. without writing them down.
Book – Table – Pin – Car – Fish – Bed – Computer – Piano – Staircase – Skateboard – Cow – Plane – Cheese – Sword – Pig – Cigarette – Hospital – Syringe – Candy – Boat
After spending three minutes trying to memorize the list, get a piece of paper and a pen, minimize this window or put aside your printed copy, and try to recall and write down the names from the list in the same order. When you have finished, come back and restart your reading.
Now compare the list above with the one you just wrote. When you find the first item in the wrong order, count how many were correct preceding it.
If you could not write all of them down in the correct order, don’t be frustrated. Most people can recall a maximum of 7 pieces of information at a time. After that, an average brain starts to disregard some information to make room for new details.
To retain the information with ease, it is essential to create a mental image where items interact in the most ridiculous and out-of-the-ordinary manner.
Let’s start with book and table. Visualize a book with arms and legs reading another book on a table in a cafeteria or a book that has several tables flying out of its pages when opened. Please refer to Picture 1.
The visualization should take no more than a couple of seconds. Over time it will become straightforward and fast to do it.
- For table and pin, visualize a table wholly made of pins. When you try to touch it, you always prick yourself with the pins’ sharp ends.
- For pin and car, visualize a pin as if it were a cartoon character, wearing a driver’s helmet, driving a racecar at full speed.
- For car and fish, visualize a car turned into a giant fish tank with several colored fish inside.
- For fish and bed, visualize a fish wearing a sleeping cap, lying in bed under a blanket, warm and cozy!
- For bed and computer, visualize an animated bed, sitting and working on the computer.
- For computer and piano, visualize an animated computer roller skating down the street. When the computer looks at its feet, the roller skates are pianos on wheels.
- For piano and staircase, visualize the keys of a piano as if they were the steps of a staircase, and when you walk on it, they sound.
- For stair and skateboard, visualize a monumental staircase where a pro skater slides down the handrail performing some crazy maneuvers.
- For skateboard and cow, visualize the same skater reaching the end of the staircase and see that the one doing all the maneuvers is a cow with a helmet and elbow pads.
- For cow and plane, visualize a cow dressed as a flight attendant serving passengers on a plane.
- For plane and cheese, visualize a plane entirely made of Swiss cheese and likewise full of holes.
- For cheese and sword, visualize a block of cheese in knight’s armor fighting with a giant sword.
- For sword and pig, visualize a sword with the pommel at the end of its hilt in the shape of a pig’s head that speaks to you and yells, “Let’s fight!”
- For pig and cigarette, visualize a pig smoking several cigarettes at the same time.
Now try and create your own associations with the other items on the list: cigarette – hospital – syringe – candy – boat.
Once you’re finished, review the associations one more time, clearly visualizing the mental images created for the list.
Put this material aside again and write the list anew. Compare it with your previous list. I am confident that you will be impressed with how much you have improved.
The Phonetic Alphabet
The phonetic alphabet involves relating consonant sounds with numbers from 0 to 9 to convert numbers into words.
Since numbers are abstract and difficult to remember, converting them into words gives them meaning, making them easier to memorize.
- The number 1 relates to the letters T and D, because of the similarity between 1 and T, and then D because it has a sound similar to that of T.
- The number 2 relates to the letter N, because it has two vertical lines.
- The number 3 relates to the letter M, because, turning it counterclockwise, we will have a 3.
- The number 4 relates to the letters R and RR. The final sound of “Four”.
- The number 5 relates to the letters L and LL because it represents a multiple of 5 in Roman numerals.
- The number 6 relates to the letters CH, SH, J, and G, the smooth G as in George or giraffe as opposed to the hard sound of gecko or gimmick, which can be used for number 7.
- The number 7 relates to the letters C, G, K, and Q, the C as in ca – co – cu, and G as in ga – go – gu and hard ge – gi as explained above.
- The number 8 relates to the letters F, V.
- The number 9 relates to the letters P, PP, and B.
- The number 0 relates to the letters S, Z, and C, the smooth C as in celebrate or cinema.
- The letters H (when it is not in SH or CH), W, and X have no numeric value and can be used as vowels to help create the words.
Now , let’s convert numbers into letters.
Let’s use the following number as an example:
11 34 21 6927 6 85 12 1 0 741 2 2 11
Just by glancing at it, you may think it would be almost impossible to retain it in your memory. However, if we use the list relating the numbers and the consonants we have just learned, add any vowels needed to form words and create a story, we are perfectly capable of retaining the whole numeric sequence.
Today Mary went shopping. She fell down. It was great. No one died.
Now that you have a sentence created and memorized, you can simply convert the consonants back into numbers, at any needed moment, in a split second.
You may be asking yourself, “Why do I want to convert numbers into letters or memorize a list of items, and what does this have to do with translation?”
Performing this kind of mental exercises will help you with your translations, proofreading tasks, and professional and non-professional activities, making your daily mental endeavors a piece of cake.
There is this false idea that a person can have bad memory. There is only untrained memory, and if you did the proposed exercise above, by now you would have realized that it isn’t that hard to get to a point where you feel how your brain starts to work on your behalf.
Just keep practicing. Instead of writing down your shopping list, perform the same mental exercise in the example above. Convert your bank account details into a sentence. We have plenty of personal or professional opportunities to put this at work.
I recommend reading some of the materials I read when I started studying these techniques to retain speeches and people’s names and faces.
One is How to Develop a Super Power Memory by Harry Lorayne. He has many other related books too. Limitless by Jim Kwik is another excellent book. He is a world-renowned brain coach that has many books and online trainings available. He coaches many Hollywood stars and political leaders. These authors also have materials about other mental techniques that give our brains an extra boost, like speed reading, fast learning, and many more.
It is time to get your brain working towards a new tomorrow, where I can guarantee you will feel better, more productive, less stressed, and with more time to enjoy life, or if you are a workaholic like I am, jump into more projects. If at least one of the readers of this material finds it useful, my objective will have been fulfilled, and I am pleased about that.