Sight translation FAQs

Sight translation is one of my favourites. I have recently been hired for an over-the-phone sight translation and I thought I could write a post on this interesting variety of translation service, one of my favourites.

What is sight translation?

Sight translation lies somewhere between interpreting and translation. The source is in written format, whereas the translation is rendered orally, usually at very short notice.

When does sight translation occur?

Sight translations are usually requested as part of a interpreting assignment, for example, over the course of a police investigation, in a medical setting or in the courtroom.

Some examples of documents sight translated are: letters, police reports, witness statements, orders.

Will I have time to prepare a sight translation?

There are two types of sight translation: rehearsed and unrehearsed sight translations.

An unrehearsed sight translation is, in essence, a translation provided ‘on the spot’, meaning that there is little or no time to skim the text and prepare.

In my experience, however, there have been occasions where the sight translation is part of a wider translation project. A certified translation is carried out first and the sight translation is performed after this (for example, over the phone). In this case the sight translation process will require little preparation and the translator basically reads the text to the recipient in order to confirm that its content is true.

Which skills are required for sight translating?

As stated above, being a combination of interpreting and translation, sight translation requires a particular type of skillset that an experienced interpreter / translator will already have: being fast and skilled at reformulating a text in order to make it understandable for the recipient. Needless to say, a good knowledge of legal / medical / police formulaic language is essential.

What difficulties does sight translation pose?

Sight translation poses some of the challenges that some interpreters can face, such as unpredictability or fear of public speaking.

This type of assignment also requires mental agility, short-term memory and can present some difficulties due to the lack of supporting materials and resources available to check on the spot, as well as lack of preparation (in the case of an unrehearsed assignment).

Also, the fact that the interpreter / translator is commissioned on short notice for sight translations, means that an extra effort is required in order to convey the meaning accurately. This is why sight translation is not always recommended.

How should a sight translation assignment be quoted?

Many sight translation tasks are part of a wider interpreting assignment and they will be charged or quoted accordingly.

However, sometimes they are also included in a translation assignment. The way these tasks are charged will depend on whether you have time to prepare the translation beforehand, in which case the translation itself and the part where the translation is read are invoiced as separate jobs.

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