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Home » Translation » Sight Translation and its Pros and Cons

Sight Translation and its Pros and Cons

17th February, 2015 I by Translation Excellence

Users of language service agencies are more and more in need of sight translation. Sight translation refers to the process of reading a document or piece of writing in the original language, and translating it out loud in the target language. It is an option for business or other professionals to receive or convey the meaning of certain writings on a short notice. It is mostly, though not exclusively, used in courtrooms, hospitals and conference rooms. Deposition transcripts, agreements and prescription forms are among the documents that are sight translated the most in these situations.

Sight translation is a quicker way of translating, especially when an interpreter is already on site for an assignment. It helps both the client and the professional tremendously, and is incredibly demanding for the interpreter, as it is a combination of both translation and interpretation. When done right, it can potentially be very helpful. But as it is not yet its own profession, not all translators and interpreters are capable of doing this, as both these professions value different aspects of languages.

In situations where sight translation could be valuable (courtrooms, hospitals), accuracy greatly outweighs speed. Since the accuracy of the language also comes from intonation, emotion and gestures, an interpreter who is stripped of these resources might feel a bit lost when it comes to sight translation. Furthermore, they might not be as capable of reading the language as quickly, especially for some of the character based Asian languages, since it uses a completely different writing system than most Western languages. By the same logic, a translator might not be as capable of speaking the language, as translation only deals with proper grammar and accuracy on paper instead of in conversation. A translator might have trouble with the pronunciation of the language.

The amalgamation of these two fields presents a challenge even for translation and interpretation professionals. Both professions require different skill sets, and only by truly mastering the original and target languages can a translator or interpreter combine his/her skills in both these fields well enough to become a good sight translator.

What is your experience in providing sight translation services? Write your comment below.

4 responses to “Sight Translation and its Pros and Cons”

  1. Viviana Spicer says:

    Excellent article detailing the specifics of sight translation. I haven’t had much professional experience in sigh translation, though I am constantly practicing it in my personal life. My father doesn’t speak English and I often help him reading emails using sight translation. I often find it much less time consuming than writing out the translation!

  2. Silvana Savini says:

    Dear Nisar, you put a name to what I usually do when translating audio interviews: record the sight(hearing) translation and then polish it when transcribing it. I am relieved now to read that it is an recognised way of translating.
    From my experience, translating interviews this way keeps alive the conversation tone, it is easier to find word games, and helps to keep the translated text lenght closer to the original.
    Personally, I find it very satisfying since, after an Internet research on the interviewed person and background, I somehow act the sight translation as if I were the interviewed, and that helps me to better choose one translation rather than another. That is, I try to personify the interviewed and make he/she speak in the target language. A language I can later review when transcribing and proofreading.
    And there as well comes another useful tool: While transcribing I can decide, depending on the client interest, if the sight(hearing)/transcribed translated text should be read as a live conversation or a written text.

  3. Dave Nealon says:

    A robust translation process requires tools such as a glossary, translation memory, and system of linguistic review. Quality and accuracy suffer without them. By contrast, sight translation seems to leave the translator with only her wits. Are there tools or systems that can help the sight translator?

  4. Yolanda Martinez says:

    I’ve been practicing sight translation for over 20yrs. Being in the mortgage industry, it was necessary for me to learn and practice sight translation on my own. This was due to the need of having to explain legal loan documents to the client.

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