Sight translation exists somewhere in the gray area between simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation, and translating. It draws on some of the main skills used in the three other modes of interpretation and translation, without totally eclipsing any of them. Knowing what skills are involved can help us understand what we need to practice a bit more, and what we’ve already mastered from our “main” method of interpreting.

Add a dash of consecutive

In consecutive interpretation, we get to hear and understand an entire utterance before interpreting it, allowing us to take notes and have a few extra seconds to figure out the grammar and meaning before it has to come out of our mouth.

In sight translation, we get the same opportunity, and should always take advantage of it. Read the entire document first, without interpreting anything (even in your head) so that you understand it. You won’t be able to interpret the meaning of a document that you don’t understand yourself!

Don’t be afraid of a few seconds or minutes of silent reading; it will save you a lot of stuttering, backtracking, and stumbling over words when you actually start speaking. That quiet time is also great for making mental notes of sentences that will need some restructuring or seem to run on forever, so you’re expecting them when you start interpreting.

To improve your “consecutive side,” practice dividing documents into chunks, or ideas, while you read. At the end, write down as many as you remember. Having even a basic summary of each idea will help you understand the context of what you read, which will help you better be able to predict what’s coming next.

Throw in a pinch of simultaneous

Simultaneous makes use of the difficult (and highly impressive) skill of listening while interpreting. The interpreter’s brain turns into a sort of self-contained assembly line that hears, understands, converts, and reproduces a message in a continuous stream, with a few-second delay called decalage between the start and the end of the process, which allows the interpreter to think.

Once an interpreter starts presenting his or her sight translation, they start using the same assembly line, only they start by reading ahead. What the audience or client hears interpreted is what the interpreter read a few seconds ago.

This delay between reading and speaking is just as necessary as reading the entire document before interpreting. While you now have the main ideas from your pre-read, reading ahead while you interpret will give you the flexibility to change sentence structure and wording as needed without backtracking and restarting a sentence.

You can improve this skill with the same methods used for bettering simultaneous interpretation. Work on increasing your decalage by reading a document out loud as you read a few sentences ahead. Start in your own language until you’ve got the skill down, and then try using synonyms or changing the register before moving into the second language.

Stir in a scoop of translation

Translating isn’t immediate, by any means. Translators get plenty of time to research the exact meaning of the words they’re working with and find the best match in the target language.

While sight translation is done on-the-spot, that doesn’t mean you can’t get ready for it like a translator. As a medical or legal interpreter, there’s a good chance you’ll run into the same types of documents over and over, using the same set of formulaic language or terminology.

Translating some of the common documents and pamphlets that you know you’ll run into ahead of time will make interpreting on the spot far easier, since you will already have done your research and gotten familiar with most of the words and phrases you’ll need.



Do you have any other tips for a good sight translation? Did this article help you? Let us know in the comments below!

Need practice materials? Check out the resources we have available in our store.


Katie McKay