What is oral translation?

Published on 17/11/2020

At first glance, it may seem silly to write a blog about what oral translation is. It seems easy to define: spoken translation or, better, translation that is reproduced by voice.

However, when you speak of "oral translation", you may actually be referring to one of the many forms of oral translation.

In this blog I will talk about the different forms oral translation takes. You will know what translation agencies and professional interpreting services call what you may call oral translation.

So, if you are interested in looking for a specific professional oral translation service, you will be able to make a more accurate search using the terminology of professional translators and interpreters.

1. Oral translation: sight translation

Oral translation sight translation

Sight translation is perhaps the most unknown type of oral translation, despite the fact that it is used quite often, especially at large conferences.

In sight translation, the oral translator (or interpreter, as we language service companies call it) has the written text that will be reproduced by the speaker.

Obviously, the written text will not be translated into the language into which the interpreter will perform the oral translation. This is why we speak of sight translation, since the interpreter must read the text in another language while translating it in his or her head and communicating it orally.

We cantherefore define sight translation (or sight interpreting, in technical jargon) as the oral translation (interpretation) of a written text. The interpreter reads the text in the source language and reproduces it orally in the target language.

This type of oral translation is very useful in business meetings, at the notary's office or in business meetings.

2. Oral translation: voice translation

Oral translation voice-over translation

Voice translation is a type of oral translation provided by an automatic translator. You can probably already get an idea of what it is by the name alone.

This is an automatic translation program, such as "Google Translate". These programs not only allow you to write text but also allow you to speak to it so that it translates whatever you are saying to it. And all that with just one click!

There are voice translators that will give you the translation in text form and others that will do it orally.

The latter can be presented as small devices that are inserted into the ear and that reproduce in real time everything they hear. If you want to know more about these little voice translators you can check our blog: "A translator in your ear".

This type of voice translator can be used to go on a trip and translate orally (i.e. "interpret" if we use the technical term) what you say.

In the not too distant future, we can imagine tourists who speak Japanese, Russian, Arabic or Chinese communicating in English, French, German, Spanish or Italian. The world is getting smaller and smaller.

3. Oral translation: consecutive translation

Oral translation as consecutive translation

Consecutive oral translation (or consecutive interpreting) is a type of oral translation that takes place in meetings, negotiations or conferences with a rather small capacity.

In this type of oral translation, the interpreter stands next to the speaker. The speaker will speak for a maximum of 5 minutes. In the meantime, the interpreter writes down everything the speaker says on an interpreting pad.

When the speaker has finished speaking, the interpreter begins to repeat what the speaker has said in another language based on his or her notes.

4. Oral translation: simultaneous translation

Oral translation as simultaneous translation

Unlike consecutive oral translation, simultaneous oral translation (or simultaneous interpreting , if you are speaking to an agency or company in the translation industry) is usually carried out at large conferences with a large number of participants.

In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreters work from an interpreting booth, which is usually located at the end of a conference room.

These booths are soundproof, so that the interpreter only hears the speaker's voice through his headphones and interprets simultaneously through a microphone.

Attendees will be able to listen to the oral translation through headphones provided at the beginning of the event. Nowadays there are also solutions to listen to the performance on your own mobile phone.

5. Oral translation: remote translation

Oral translation as remote translation

Remote oral translation (or remote interpreting, as it is known to professional translation and interpreting companies) can be done in different formats.

Remote interpreting can be oral sight translation, consecutive oral translation or simultaneous oral translation. What characterizes remote interpreting is the fact that it takes place in a virtual format, i.e. online.

This type of oral translation has not had much support up to now, but due to the current health crisis practically all events are held remotely.

Everything points to the fact that remote oral translation is here to stay and has become the most common form of oral translation (interpreting).

In addition, remote oral translation offers many advantages over traditional oral translation. It allows you to get in touch with interpreters from all over the world, which is very practical if you need an oral translation service in an unusual language such as Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish.

If you want to know more about remote oral translation, its features and advantages, take a look at the blog "The challenge of remote interpreting".

Remote translation (or remote interpreting) is done through digital platforms. Zoom is one of the well-known platforms that comes ready to do remote oral translations. If you are interested to know how, you can read: "Language interpreting with Zoom".

6. Conclusion


As you have seen in this blog, oral translation can be given different meanings. I hope that if you have come to this blog looking to know what oral translation is, you now have a clearer idea.

What is certain is that all its meanings have to do with translation and multilingual communication. By using the terms used by translation and interpreting companies and agencies, you can refine your search.

In any case, oral translation in all its versions is constantly evolving and we can expect technical improvements in all areas that challenge our imagination. Don't miss it!

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