Cicero’s “Loci” mnemonic system in consecutive interpreting

Mnemonic systems such as the one developed by Cicero centuries ago would come in very handy to consecutive interpreters when traditional note-taking is not feasible. In interpreting  for the media, for example, spontaneity is appreciated and scribbling is generally considered inappropriate.

One of the oldest mnemonic systems is the method of loci [LOW-sye]. A “locus” is a location, “loci” is the plural. The Method of Loci uses locations of a familiar place (imagined in memory) as a framework for memory retrieval.

To use the method of loci, you associate items you wish to remember later with locations of a familiar room, building, or street. Then, to retrieve the information, you mentally “stroll down memory lane” and visualize the same locations. If the method works, the information you stored in various locations will come back with the memory of the location. To be effective, one must usually visualize an object “doing something” or interacting in some way with the objects at a particular location.

The method of loci is ancient. Cicero, the Roman orator, recommended it. Lecturers in his day were not allowed to use lecture notes, so memorization techniques were valued.

Cicero told a traditional story about how the method of loci was discovered. A Greek poet named Simonides was entertaining a group of wealthy noblemen at a banquet. Suddenly a pair of mysterious figures called him outside. They turned out to be messengers from the Olympian gods Castor and Pollux, praised by Simonides in his poem. As soon as Simonides stepped outside, the roof of the banquet hall collapsed, squashing everybody inside. The mangled corpses could not be identified until Simonides stepped forward, pointed to the place where each victim had been sitting, and said each name in turn.

How did Simonides accomplish this feat? He mentally recreated the scene of the banquet, visualizing each reveler in his place. When he saw the places, it helped him remember the person who had been sitting there.

(From Psychology: An Introduction by Russell A. Dewey)

A more modern approach would involve the use of a digital voice recorder, as already discussed in this same Blog and previously in some SCIC Newsletters (see Simultaneous/Consecutive Mode).

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Cicero’s “Loci” mnemonic system in consecutive interpreting

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