How do you speak through an interpreter?
Tips for using translators during mission trips or other occasions
Having to speak through a translator interpreter can be a good experience . . . or it
can be a frustrating one.
Cross-cultural experiences: Speaking or preaching when listeners need your words
translated into another language
There are more than 6,000 languages spoken throughout the world. Thus, even a very multi-
lingual person will know only a few of them. While we say English is widely spoken, there are
billions of people in the world who do not know it. So, the chances of your needing an
interpreter on your next overseas mission trip are fairly high!
If you are going to be speaking with the help of interpreter, here are some tips for you:
- Ahead of time
- 1. Pray with your interpreter beforehand. Prayer has a way of bonding people together.
2. Go over scripture passages and main points with your translator ahead of time. That gives
your interpreter time to think about how to express what you're going to say.
3. Help your interpreter know exactly what you hope to communicate by giving him or her a
theme sentence or phrase that sums up what you want to say.
- During your presentation
- 4. Speak in complete thoughts. Grammar and syntax vary from language to language. So,
unless you give complete thoughts, you can leave an interpreter hanging and unsure of which
direction to go in terms of translating.
5. Avoid complex sentences and parenthetical "rabbit trails." Translators will forget parts of
complex sentences. Audiences will be confused by the "rabbit trails."
6. Realize that translators occasionally must backtrack to clarify something.
7. Do not recite poems. It is impossible to translate poetry "on the fly."
8. Avoid using slang words and idiomatic expressions.
9. Realize that humor which depends on specific words likely will not translate well.
10. Be visual. Draw word pictures.
11. When you pause for translation, maintain eye contact with the audience rather than turning to
watch your interpreter.
- 12. Warmly thank your translator. Apologize for the fact that you did not know the
heart language of the listeners. Express appreciation for the fact that interpreters generally
expend more mental energy than do the speakers they are translating.
-- Howard Culbertson
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