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What is Sight Translation?

what is sight translation?

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Did you know? There are actually three modes of interpretation. Interpreters typically use either consecutive or simultaneous interpretation during a session. However, there’s a third, lesser used mode: sight translation. So, what is sight translation and when do interpreters use it?

A Brief Introduction to Sight Translation

Despite the name, this mode involves orally translating from one language to another. When a written text must be read aloud in a different language, interpreters use sight translation to do so. Upon request, an interpreter will silently read the text and then convey the message out loud to the audience in the target language.

Interpreters typically use sight translation in medical settings, but may also use it in courtroomsschools, or in corporate settings. During a session, an interpreter may sight translate forms, instructions, brochures, letters, or other short documents.

While most interpreters are trained on best practices for sight translation, they aren’t professional translators. Documents that are longer than one to two pages or include complex information should be translated beforehand.

Sight Translation in Healthcare   

Now that you know a little more about sight translation, let’s take a look at a few examples in healthcare.

Medical interpreters may sight translate:

  • Handouts with information about a patient’s condition.
  • Instructions for aftercare or prescriptions.
  • Insurance or other registration forms, if they’re unavailable in a patient’s native language.

Medical interpreters typically won’t sight translate:

  • Lengthy pamphlets with complex information about a condition or procedure.
  • Consent forms for procedures. This is because the interpreter’s role is to interpreter between two parties, not obtain consent.

Medical interpreters may or may not translate:

  • Patients’ documents or medical records from their home country. Interpreters typically evaluate these on a case-by-case basis.

If you’d like to see a few scenarios in action, check out EthnoMed’s video series on the topic.

Sight Translation in Other Settings

In the courtroom, legal interpreters may sight translate texts that are part of exhibits for the benefit of a witness who doesn’t speak English. They may also sight translate portions of English documents into the witness’s native language. However, most documents should be professionally translated beforehand due to the high degree of accuracy needed in legal proceedings.

In schools, educational interpreters may sight translate registration forms or other short documents that inform parents about school procedures. They may also sight translate a letter or notice a parent received during a parent-teacher conference.

Additionally, corporate interpreters often perform sight translations during business meetings or conferences. This may involve sight translating texts that are part of a presentation or other short documents.

Final Thoughts

Although sight translation is helpful, it isn’t appropriate for all types of texts. If you’re unsure of whether an interpreter should perform a sight translation, ask beforehand. This will help cut down on the confusion during a session and help ensure it goes smoothly!

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