Sight Translation: Healthcare Interpreters’ Cinderella

Sight Translation: Healthcare Interpreters’ Cinderella

Not long ago the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) hosted a webinar on the subject of Sight Translation in medical settings: “When Interpreter Meets Translator: Sight Translation of Healthcare Documents”, which was presented by Natalya Mytareva (M.A., CoreCHITM, CCHI Managing Director) on Sunday, Feb 1, 2015. Revising several concepts discussed during the webinar, some thoughts sprouted on this particular chapter of our regular duties as healthcare interpreters. Let us here comment on some of them.

SIGHT TRANSLATION is the oral rendition of text written in one language into another language and is usually done in the moment (NCIHC, 2010). Traditionally, instead of an activity on its own, sight translation has mostly been considered as a supportive interpretation method for simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, a type of simultaneous interpreting, or just a pedagogical exercise for getting started in the techniques of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting (Ersozlu, 2005). However, sight translation is neither proper INTERPRETATION (oral rendering of spoken or signed communication from one language into another; NCIHC, 2010) nor proper TRANSLATION (rendering of a written text in one language in a comparable written text in another language; NCIHC, 2010), although a tension with this latter activity is clearly apparent: both translation and sight translation share the intended communicative purpose, require knowledge of similar specific documents, and start their journey on a written text.

sight v written translation graphic

Their particular outcomes, though, as well as the problem solving routes that can be undertaken in a given difficult situation are different in each case. While in translation the linguistic form is always preserved, in sight translation simplification is considered acceptable due to the need for immediate delivery.

Sight translation is an exercise half way in between interpretation and translation that requires its own particular set of skills:

  • Knowledge of TERMINOLOGY (the system of terms belonging to any science or subject, nomenclature; OED) specific to healthcare documents.
  • Understanding the REGISTER (a variety or level of usage, especially as determined by social context and characterized by the range of vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, etc., used by a speaker or writer in particular circumstances; OED) to have the ability to adjust it to neutral if needed.
  • Understanding the SYNTAX (the set of rules and principles in a language according to which words, phrases, and clauses are arranged to create well-formed sentences – the ways in which a particular word or part of speech can be arranged with other words or parts of speech; OED) and, if required, be able to SIMPLIFY it without sacrificing accuracy of meaning.

natalya mytareva

(Graph by Natalya Mytareva)

Sight translation requires different skills than oral interpreting, and sight translating long documents can consume quite a lot of time, fatigue the interpreter and increase the risk for error (NCIHC, 2010). Thus, we come with the dilemma of:

Sight Translate versus DO NOT Sight Translate

From the pool of documents that we, healthcare interpreters, might handle while performing our duties, there are those ones (institutional forms and some informational documents) that we may sight translate (green in the table below), those ones (legal documents) that should practically never be sight translated but translated (red in the table below), and those ones (some informational documents) that depending on their length and level of complexity might or might not be sight translated (yellow in the table below).

chart 3.2015

Once it has been decided that a given written document is suitable for sight translation, here are some tips to prepare for it as they were suggested by Natalya Mytareva:

  • Beforehand:
    • Collect and study (translate and become familiar with) healthcare documents; even better if they are from the institution/s you are working for).
    • Prepare yourself by:
      • Analyzing the peculiarities of healthcare documents.
      • Analyzing sentences and identifying their subjects and predicates.
      • Studying specific vocabulary (legal, insurance, etc.)
      • Practicing paraphrasing sentences without changing the original meaning.
      • Creating your own sight translation glossaries (including formulaic phrases, sentences, paraphrases, and expressions without standard equivalents in other languages).
    • On site:
      • Identify the intent of the document & focus on preserving the intended meaning.
      • Review the whole document.
      • Simplify the written form as you go (idea by idea, not word by word).
      • While sight translating a sentence, read ahead to the next one to ensure an even pace.
      • Try sight translate at a moderate, even pace with a non-monotonous intonation.

Along with sight translation, TRANSLATION “ON THE SPOT” (written source to written target, on site), probably a performance less frequently done than sight translation, is also something that we are requested to do. Therefore, hinted here are types of texts that might be considered suitable for translation on the spot:

  • Notes on documents; not the whole document
  • Only from English to patient’s language
  • Only short, specific portions
  • Non-Technical” language

On-the-spot translations by interpreters, aside from documents such as those mentioned above, are unnecessary if materials have been translated in advance and are available for use in patient encounters (NCIHC, 2010).

It would be grand for those few comments if they manage to spark discussion among your fellow interpreters, especially among those ones working for your same department/agency, so when approaching a particular situation where sight translation might be required, by your professional response you can undisputedly be identified as a member of your institution.



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