Learning Sight Translation

This my third time sharing my experience on becoming an interpreter. In this blog I want to talk about sight translation. Translating documents in situ is another skill that a court interpreter should acquire; it is considered the step before simultaneous interpretation.

The second part of De La Mora´s online training focuses on sight translation. At first I thought the most difficult part was going to be sight translating the legal terms found in the pleas, affidavits, and other judicial documents, but then I realized that other documents such as news articles, birth registrations, letters, and declarations could be tricky as well.

What I found to be most difficult to translate were proper names – especially acronyms. From the documents we used as exercises in class, I learned to translate various names of international and local organizations.  Most of them were completely new to me, and my tendency was to avoid translating them because I wasn´t sure if there was an equivalent in Spanish.

Another thing that was very hard for me to sight translate were the seemingly random written testimonies. First of all, they were very confusing. Some words were even illegible. Second, most of these testimonies were just direct translations of the oral expression of the witness’s language, so there were plenty of words that didn´t even count as words. I had a hard time decoding the meaning, although context really helped.

No matter what type of document I need to sight translate, the most valuable lesson I learned during the training sessions was to take time to read and understand the whole thing first, before I start interpreting.  Once I have understood the whole message, then it´s time for me to deconstruct the document.

You probably won’t be allowed to write over the documents you will be sight translating. They are usually part of the court´s record, so you must take notes separately. There is no rush, so you will have enough time to research and find out the target-language equivalents (if any) between proper names and acronyms used in the documents. Don´t be impatient; slow down and focus on using your time effectively to be as accurate as possible. If you start translating as if you were in a race, you will miss a big part of the meaning. If you sight translate at an average pace, having read and understood the document fully, you will be better able to deliver an effective translation.

I have been recommending TV series to watch in former posts – mostly related to the court scene – but this time I´ll encourage you to read the newspaper and listen to the radio. The BBC radio in Spanish is great. You never know the type of document you´ll be facing in your next sight translation, so being informed can’t hurt, right?

María Ximena Pineda

Colombian writer, journalist and screenwriter. She has written for television and collaborated with various newspapers and magazines.


1 thought on “Learning Sight Translation”

  1. This is the easiest of the three techniques of Legal Interpretation. Your advice is totally on target. The key is to read, and if time permits, read again the document (or paragraph) before starting to interpret and then do so sentence by sentence rather than word by word.

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