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 courtrooms, schools, 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!

Hiring best practices dictate that you verify a candidate’s skill set before you make an offer. When it comes to interpreters, translators, and bilingual employees, that means evaluating language skills. Yet even if you’re fluent in the language pairs, it’s difficult to do this yourself. That’s why many organizations ask candidates to complete a language proficiency exam. However, like most things in life, there are pros and cons to going this route.


Types of Language Testing


Before we dive into the pros and cons, let’s take a look at the most common types of language proficiency exams. These include:


  • Speaking and listening
  • Writing skills
  • Reading comprehension
  • Interpretation
  • Translation


Industry-specific exams focus on the language requirements and terminology a candidate must know to be successful in the role. Industries that rely on specialized testing include, but aren’t limited to:


  • Medical
  • Legal
  • Government
  • Customer service


The Pros of Language Testing


Now that you know a little more about language proficiency exams, let’s take a look at the benefits of using them during the hiring process.


  1. They provide an objective measure of a candidate’s skillset. While degrees, certificates, past experience, and recommendations are useful, test results can help you evaluate someone’s current skill set.
  2. They’re available in over 100 languages. National and state certification exams for industries such as medical and legal are typically only available for a handful of major languages. Testing allows you to evaluate a candidate’s skills when no certification test exists for the language you need.
  3. They’re tailored for various industries. If you’re hiring within an industry without an established certification process, testing will help you evaluate a candidate’s language skills.


The Cons of Language Testing


Although language proficiency exams are a useful tool, they do have a few drawbacks. These include the following.

  1. They can be costly. Language tests are typically administered by a third-party (often a language service provider) and the costs can add up when you test multiple candidates.
  2. They can reduce the diversity of the candidate pool. Asking candidates to provide exam results (and cover the costs themselves) can deter them from applying. People who identify as a racial or ethnic minority or have a disability are more likely to be low income and may be unable to pay for the exam.
  3. They’re time consuming. Testing increases the time it takes to move candidates through the hiring process. And candidates who apply at multiple organizations may be require to keep retaking proficiency exams, depending on hiring policies.


Final Thoughts


Despite a few drawbacks, language proficiency testing is still one of the best ways to determine a candidate’s language skills when no certification process exists. It’s particularly useful for languages of less diffusion and within industries that don’t have a standardized method for evaluating language skills.


Does your organization require candidates to complete a language proficiency exam? If so, how has this impacted the hiring process? Let us know in the comments!

Did you know? November is Native American Heritage Month. Established in 1990, it celebrates the history, cultures, and contributions of Native Americans throughout the United States. While this recognition is long overdue, it also highlights the fact that many indigenous languages—and cultures—are endangered. That’s why we’re shining a spotlight on five Native American linguists who have worked to preserve their language and culture.


Sequoyah (c. 1770 – 1843)


A Cherokee polymath, Sequoyah was born in Tuskegee, Cherokee Nation near present-day Knoxville, Tennessee. He is best known for his creation of the Cherokee syllabary, which made it possible to read and write in the language. His achievement allowed the Cherokee Nation to become one of the first North American indigenous groups to have a written language. It also inspired members of other pre-literate groups throughout the world to develop their own writing systems.


Parker McKenzie (1897 – 1999)


Born in Mountainview, Oklahoma, Parker McKenzie belonged to the Kiowa Tribe. He served as a Kiowa translator for anthropologist John Peabody Harrington, and the two worked to develop the Kiowa orthography that’s still used today. He also contributed to three books on the language including A Grammar of Kiowa by anthropologist Laurel J. Watkins.


Emory Sekaquaptewa (1928 – 2007)


Known as “The First Hopi”, Emory Sekaquaptewa was a Hopi leader, scholar, and linguist. Born on the Hopi Reservation of Northern Arizona, he is best known for his work on the first Hopi dictionary. The dictionary, which includes 30,000 words, helped revive the language. He also served as a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona from 1972 to 2007.


Linda Yamane (1949 –)


Born in San Jose, California, Linda Yamane is a Rumsien Ohlone artist, historian, and language preservationist. She is known for almost single-handedly reviving the Rumsien language, after the last speaker died in 1939. In the mid-1980s, she began researching the language and translated Rumsien documents into English. Using a cassette tape of wax cylinder recordings, she was able to better understand pronunciation and further develop a dictionary.


Jesse Little Doe Baird (1963 –)


Born in Wareham, Massachusetts, Jesse Little Doe Baird is Wampanoag linguist and indigenous language preservationist. She is best known for her work to revive the Wampanoag language. While studying with linguist Kenneth L. Hale, the two collaborated on the creation of a Wampanoag language database. She and her work are the subject of the PBS documentary We Still Live Here.


Are there any Native American linguists you’d like to celebrate this month? Let us know in the comments!