Introduction to the Sight Translation Chapter (from The Interpreter's Edge, Generic Edition)


Note: All the text of the introduction to the Sight Translation chapter of The Interpreter's Edge, Generic Edition, is reproduced here. No attempt has been made, however, to make the HTML version look like the page layout of the book.

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Sight translation is often given short shrift in court interpreter training; because it appears to be such a simple task, not much attention is devoted to it. In fact, sight translation is just as difficult as simultaneous interpretation, and involves some of the same mental processes. In the case of sight translation, the input is visual (the written word) rather than oral (the spoken word), but the interpreter still has to process a thought in the source language and generate the target language version of that thought while simultaneously processing the next source language thought, and so on. Some interpreters find sight translation more difficult than the other modes of interpreting because they have more trouble focusing on meaning rather than words--the essence of proper interpretation--when the message is written in black and white on a piece of paper. Reading comprehension is an important element of sight translation, and the need to improve and maintain reading comprehension is one reason why court interpreters (and prospective court interpreters) should read as much and as widely as possible.

Another aspect of sight translation that should be emphasized is delivery. It is very important that the interpreter speak loudly and enunciate clearly, with proper intonation and voice modulation. Smooth pacing is also essential; sudden starts and stops and long pauses while the interpreter figures out a difficult translation problem are distracting to the listener. Ideally, a sight translation should sound as if the interpreter were merely reading a document written in the target language.

The texts contained in this chapter are designed to help you develop the skills you need for sight translation. Most of them are typical of the texts you will be required to sight translate in the courtroom. A few (the essays, in particular) are included because they illustrate a specific problem in sight translation. Different type faces and formats have been used so that you will become accustomed to dealing with different types of documents.

In general, the texts that court interpreters are called upon to sight translate from English into another language contain bureaucratic language, which is characterized by technical jargon (that of the police, the courts, public agencies, etc.), abbreviations, long adjective-noun clusters, and the passive voice.

Texts to be sight translated from a second language into English are generally of two types: legal documents from other countries, sometimes characterized by long, convoluted sentences and technical legal terms; and handwritten or typed documents that are sometimes written by unsophisticated people who may be unfamiliar with the rules of grammar and punctuation in their own language. Examples of such foreign-language texts are not included here because of the monolingual nature of this book. You should attempt to obtain examples of both legal and hand-written documents in your second language and use those documents for additional sight-translation practice.

The first text presented here, "Rights Concern Misplaced" is intended for public speaking practice preparatory to beginning sight translation. First, read the text aloud in English to practice your delivery (voice projection, enunciation, etc.). This text is an opinion piece that forcefully presents a point of view; make sure you read it convincingly, even if you disagree with it. Next, paraphrase the text; that is, change the wording as much as you can without altering the meaning.

Paraphrasing is a helpful exercise that develops the mental agility you need for sight translation. It forces you to read ahead and solve problems quickly; it also helps you focus on meaning rather than words, thus avoiding stilted, literal translations. Paraphrasing is a good vocabulary-building exercise that you should continue to do periodically even after you feel you are adept at sight translation (during a break in court, pick up a magazine or newspaper and paraphrase an article). Moreover, paraphrasing is a good problem-solving technique; if you have trouble translating a phrase in a sight translation text, try paraphrasing it mentally in the source language first, and it may trigger a solution in the target language. It is important to remember, however, that paraphrasing is a valuable learning tool and mental exercise; you should never paraphrase when you are actually interpreting in court.

The remaining 11 texts are for sight translation practice. Try to sight translate them as smoothly as possible, solving problems as best you can. After you have completed the entire text, look up any terms you had trouble with.

Make sure you do all the exercises in this chapter out loud, even if you have no audience. Record yourself on audio or video tape so that you know how you sound (and look, if you use video) to your audience.

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Sample Sight Translation Lesson (from The Interpreter's Edge, Generic Edition)

Sight Text 11




The body is that of a well-developed, well-nourished white female, appearing about the recorded age of 36 years. The head contour is normocephalic and reveals abrasions and contusions of the frontal forehead. The hair is brown and of female distribution. There is no other evidence of trauma to the head.

There are numerous abrasions and contusions of the face. There is no evidence of fracture of the facial bones. There is palpable fracture of the nasal bones and cartilages. There is blood exuding from the nasal and oral cavities.

The mouth is rigidly set. The teeth are natural and in good state of repair. The neck is symmetrical and the trachea is palpable at the midline. There is no excessive mobility or grating crepitation to suggest fractures of the cervical vertebrae. The chest diameters are symmetrical and reveal a flail character. The breasts contain no masses. There are numerous abrasions and contusions of the anterior chest and abdomen. There are no distinguishing scars. The external genitalia are normal adult female.

The upper extremities reveal numerous abrasions and contusions of the hands, forearms and arms. There are no needle tracks or marks on the antecubital fossae or transverse scars on the volar aspects of the wrists. The hands, fingers and fingertips reveal multiple abrasions but no fractures. The lower extremities reveal multiple abrasions and superficial lacerations of the anterior surfaces of both knees, legs and lower thighs. The back and posterior body surfaces reveal no trauma.


1. CRANIOFACIAL INJURIES: This consists of multiple abrasions and contusions of the frontal forehead and face, showing occasional dicing patterns. Subsequent examination reveals no underlying fractures of the facial bones. There are underlying subgaleal and galeal hemorrhages in the frontal forehead area of the scalp. There is no fracture of the underlying calvarium or base of the skull. There is fracture of the nasal bones and cartilage with hemorrhage in the nasal cavities. There is no evidence of fractures in the alveolar ridge or mandible and no trauma to the teeth structures or anterior visible tongue.

2. THORACOABDOMINAL INJURIES: This consists of some patterned abrasions and contusions involving the anterior chest and abdomen. There is underlying flail character of the chest with subcutaneous emphysema. Subsequent examination reveals multiple fractures of the anterior ribs, involving the right and left 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7th ribs and a transverse fracture of the body of the sternum.

Subsequent examination reveals massive bilateral hemothorax of approximately 1200 ccs. of liquid and clotted blood in the thoracic cavities secondary to multiple lacerations of the lungs which are in anatomic proximity to the sharp ends of the fractured ribs. In addition, there is a partial transection of the thoracic aorta, approximately 2 cms. below the origin of the left subclavian artery.

3. EXTREMITY INJURIES: These are a series of abrasions, contusions and lacerations involving the anterior aspects of the legs, knees and the lower thighs with no associated fractures of the long bone of the lower extremities. There are multiple dicing abrasions of the left forearm and hand and multiple abrasions and contusions of the right forearm and arm. No fractures of the long bones of the upper extremities are noted.


The body is opened in the usual Y-shaped incision carried through skin and subcutaneous tissues which measure 2 cms. at the mid-abdomen. There are multiple contusions and hemorrhages in the underlying soft tissues and muscles of the anterior chest and abdomen with subcutaneous emphysema present. The multiple rib and sternum fractures have been described above. Removal of the chest plate reveals hemorrhages in the anterior mediastinal soft tissues. The pericardial sac is intact and encloses a small quantity of serosanguineous fluid. The abdominal cavity reveals the hemoperitoneum with no evidence of adhesions.

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