How to speak with a translator

Pastor Ti preaching with a seriously good translator.

Pastor Ti preaching with a seriously good translator.

I first preached with a translator for the French church in Harlesden about twenty three years ago. Since then I’ve preached with a Spanish translator in Peru, Romanian translators in both Romania and the UK as well as Norwegian and numerous others. Today I enjoyed a return trip to Espérance de la Gloire where the translators are second to none, but even with the best of the best a few tips may help.

1.   One liners don’t translate! My old gag, ‘they used to call me the Faster Pastor until I fell off my bike and now they call me the Elasta Pastor’ never fails to raise a laugh, but it simply doesn’t rhyme or flow in other languages. Likewise, if you have ‘four Ps of…’ you’ll find they are never four Ps in any other language. So, like it or not, you need to have less punchy titles and points. Don’t despair though as good communication is not about being punchy and dynamic, its about being understood. Don’t fear being dull either as by having a simple outline with sincerity your actual content will still be appreciated.

2. If possible type your notes in full. For many of us this is normally a stifeling experience, but when you are working with a translator it is often difficult to remember what you are supposed to say next as you await the translation. Sometimes, indeed almost always, someone from the congregation offers an alternative word or phrase to your translator at some point and as you observe the live discussion it can really throw you. There are other advantages of fully types notes too. If you can get them done far enough in advance send them to your translator and let them pass comment, ask questions and get involved. This saves your translator the stress of having to think on their feet and that can only help everyone. Finally, when you have fully typed notes you can leave them behind and anything folk didn’t quite grasp can be explained.

3.  If you have bible readings or quotes do your best to get these to the translator well in advance. They are under horrendous pressure and scrutiny, so help them.

4.   Good translators will often interpret slightly rather than translate verbatim, this is because they understand cultural differences, what is polite and what is offensive etc. You need to trust them here and be patient when something you said short takes a while to explain.

5.  Every translator has a different style and a different memory so before you begin ask how many sentences you should speak before pausing for them. You may find them adapt as you go along, so try to be sensitive to what they can cope with.

Each of the above I’ve learnt from experience, so I’ve certainly not done all of this over the years, but now that I’m getting the hang of it I thought I’d help save you the same twenty three year learning curve!

Comments and further tips for readers welcome.

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About Paul Sinclair

Paul Sinclair, often referred to as The Faster Pastor, has 29 years proven ministry as a pastor, speaker, published author and writer. His wife Marian is from Ghana and has been a minister in song for as many years. When Marian sings… expect an anointing!
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