My first experience in preaching was with a translator when I was just 18 years old. My classmate Pastor Jeevan Jyothi did an awesome job of translating my message from English to Telugu. Since then, all of these nearly 30 years I have used a translator whenever required. There is nothing worse than having a translator who has no idea what he is doing. Such poor translators are nightmares to preachers. As such interpreters are also sometimes called interrupters. Many years ago an American preacher after the completion of the meetings sat with his Indian interpreter for a meal and asked this question. “How do you do this, you translate so well, before I am finished you are on to it?” The Indian translator replied, “Well, it is very simple sir. You preach, I preach and we both preach.” Sometimes, isn’t that the case?
Here are some suggestions that I have picked up over the years that might help you as a translator to sharpen your gift of translation.
Tips to be an effective Translator
Know the Preacher. As much as possible spending time with the preacher in a casual meeting will help in understanding the subject of preaching, his accent, and the expectation of the preacher.
Know the Topic. It is good to ask for the teaching notes/sermon outline well in advance so that the translator can prepare well to have the correct translation for vocabularies that are difficult. If the teaching notes are not available, at least ask for the key Bible passages. Make sure to become familiar with the subject being taught. If the translator is Bible ignorant,the audience is quick to observe and lose interest in listening. Becoming familiar with the topic helps you as a translator to anticipate and understand the thought progression better. Reading the Bible in the local language in a systematic way daily is one of the best ways to learn the Scripture. Also, reading relevant books and listening to great preachers either live or online also help you as a translator to have your mind tuned to the ministry translation.
Pray and Prepare. Just as much as the preacher is praying and preparing, the translator also must pray and prepare before the ministry. An equal measure of anointing as the preacher is required for the translator to be effective. Understanding the preachers’ language such as English or any other language is not the only criteria to be a good translator. Ministry of translation is a gift from God to the body of Christ and as such the translator must be empowered by the Holy Spirit for the task.
Dress Code. Please dress appropriately to the occasion of ministry and try to be consistent with the dress code of the preacher. A prior discussion with the preacher will help determine what type of clothing to wear on the occasion. It will be too odd if the preacher is wearing a business casual and the translator is in a formal dress or vice versa.
Listening to the Preacher. Key to an accurate translation is to listen carefully to the preacher. If you are having difficulty in understanding the accent of the preacher, one of the best ways to overcome this difficulty is to turn to the preacher and watch the lips movement while listening carefully through the foldback speakers. Please ensure that the foldback speakers are positioned to your liking and to the liking of the preacher before the event starts and a sound check is done to ensure accurate setting of the sound output.
Be a Copy Cat. As a translator you are not only the voice of the preacher but also expressions and representation of the preacher. As such, the translator must give the exact translation. For example, “When I was traveling to my house” translate as it is than saying, “when pastor was traveling to his house.” Know that even though they are listening to your language the audience is tuned to the preacher. And so, if the translator keep using, he says, brother went, etc, it disconnect the message from the preacher. Move with the speaker and use physical and emotional expressions as the preacher. For example, if the preacher sits down, the translator also should sit. Ensure to use the same sound modulation as the preacher so that it syncs well with the preacher.
Some other miscellaneous practical tips:
- Turn off the mobile phone in the pocket and do not text or talk on the mobile once on the stage.
- Drinking water in between should be done discretely. Before coming on the stage, it is best to drink plenty of lukewarm or room temperature water to keep self hydrated. Also, remember to use the toilet before hand so that you are not distracted.
- If you did not understand a sentence, don’t translate what you think he said. Instead request the preacher to “repeat please/pardon me”.
- If the preacher is asking for a crowd response, please ensure to give time for the crowd response.
- Be spontaneous to contextualize the stories or content so that the hearers understand the message and respond appropriately.
- Stay back at the end of the service to help with the preacher for any prayer ministry.
- The best drink before and after long translation ministry is black tea with lemon and honey to smoothen your throat. Avoid taking chilled drinks, as it will cause more irritation to the throat.
- If eating a meal before translation please eat only half stomach full.
- Ensure to have a minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep the night before a translation assignment.
- Learn to pronounce properly the names of popular figures that are often quoted in a sermon. Names such as Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, C.T. Studd, Billy Graham etc comes to my mind. Learn to pronounce them correctly.
- Translator must have a love for language, especially the languages you are translating. Try to use vocabularies that are contemporary and easy to understand than for example, using Sanskrit or Urdu especially when translating into Hindi.
- Remember that the ministry of translation is a gift from God and you are using it to serve the body of Christ. Please do not put a professional fee for the translation ministry. I stopped inviting anyone who demands a fee! Yes,“a laborer is worthy of his wage” but the Bible does not allow us to charge people for our ministry. Don’t put a special kind of meal requirement if you are to come as a translator. I had one such translator friend who demanded chicken curry everywhere he was invited.
- Be punctual about reaching to your ministry assignment before time so that you have sufficient time to speak to the preacher and prepare yourself.
What to Avoid?
Don’t jump the gun. Nothing verse than disclosing the climax of a main point or a story before the preacher speaks out. Allow sufficient time for the preacher to complete his sentence. If he abruptly stops a sentence in the middle, ask him quietly to “continue please”, so that the preacher will understand that the translator cannot construct a sentence by that which is already spoken.
Protect your Integrity. If you are an invited translator to an event hosted by some other church or organization, be professional in your approach as a translator. Stay away from promoting self and your ministry to the preacher with an attempt to make him your sponsor. Avoid sharing your visiting card unless the preacher gives you his card first. This will ensure the translators’ integrity in the local community is preserved. Also, relationship with the local organization is maintained for the long term. Avoid any potential issues of stealing a sponsor etc. Many translators ignore the fact any such appeal to the preacher comes back to the host body and the relationship of the translator with the local organization or church is broken forever. The news will spread that this translator is not trust worthy. If you are an invited translator to another church, don’t promote or invite the believers to visit your own local church. These are basic ministerial ethics one must follow.
Don’t change the mood of the message. If the preacher is seriously presenting a thought, don’t translate it with a joking smile on the face. In the same manner, if the preacher is in a jolly mood, be likewise.
Eye Contact. Ensure to have a general eye contact with the entire section of the crowd. Individuals in the crowd should not feel threatened by constantly looking at a person or a section and totally ignoring the others.
I realize that I sound ‘on the face’ with some of my observations and suggestions. But I could not help but write, as they are all result of my own experiences. I am sure you will not take it personally but try to inculcate some of the values that you feel is necessary in your life and ministry. We also know so well that it is not about the preacher or the translator but about the very voice of God pulsating through the audience bringing deliverance, healing, transformation and salvation. But the fact remains that God prefers to use us as His agents to bring this message of salvation to a lost and dying world. Let us give our very best so that name of our God is glorified and others are blessed.