What is Sight Translation?

Sight translation is a unique skill that combines reading and interpreting. It involves translating a written document orally, sometimes without prior preparation.

This practice is crucial when an immediate understanding of the written text is needed.   However, sight translation has its limitations. The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) has established guidelines for those who work with language professionals to ensure the quality and accuracy of sight translation services.  It also helps to manage the expectations of professionals about what can be sight-translated and what kinds of documents need to be translated in full rather than orally.

Sight translation vs. translation

Some kinds of documents are not suitable for sight translation.  The ideal length of a document for sight translation is 200-300 words, and a document that isn’t too complex.  If you have a lengthy and complex document, it should be given to a translator who can spend time ensuring that the words are accurately conveyed.

What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

Interpreters specialise in verbal communication or visual language, as in the case of AUSLAN.   Translators specialise in written communication.  You can read more about the differences in our article.   Not all interpreters are translators, and not all translators are interpreters.   Some are both. 

What must you do if you need an interpreter to sight translate?

  • Give the interpreter sufficient time to read through the document
  • If the document is longer than 300 words or complex, organise for it to be sent to a translator.
  • Download the full recommendations here.

Communication can be challenging, and it is essential to ensure that the information you provide to a person with limited English proficiency is accurate and empowering. Different recommendations are made depending on the setting in which the sight translation takes place. AUSIT has addressed this in its document, and we highly recommend downloading it and understanding this specialised area of communication in more depth.

By following AUSIT’s guidelines, you can help ensure that sight translations are accurate, effective, and beneficial for all parties involved. You can read more on their website: https://www.ausit.org

This blog post is brought to you by LanguageLoop, Australia’s leading language services provider. With our commitment to facilitating communication across diverse Australian society, we turn words into possibilities.  Follow us on social media to learn more.


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