Ten Tips For A Happy Translator

You want the tension in any teaching you do while abroad to come from Holy Spirit conviction not an awkward translation experience. Consider these ten tips while you prepare for your short-term mission trip.


Kim Frolander

Vineyard Missions writer, Inverness Vineyard, Birmingham, AL

Same info in video format: Ten Tips For a Happy Translator on YouTube

Many people in the world speak English making it a great time to be an English speaker and also be in missions! On the flip side, many people in the world do not speak English, or they want a little translation help with the specifics in their heart-language.

Frequently, when we go abroad on a missions trip we will have the chance to deliver a message through a translator. People who are good at this skill make it look effortless, but working with a translator can take some getting used to. Practicing ahead at home (in any language) can help the first-timer tremendously. We have compiled a these tips to help make this time pleasant for everyone involved, especially your audience and translator.

  1. Use written notes if at all possible and give a copy to your translator ahead. Don’t forget that when making your notes for a teaching time to allow twice as long (or half the material) to allow for translation time since everything must be repeated in the second language.
  2. Don’t speak too fast or use too many words at a time.
  3. Don’t speak too slowly or just use one or two words at a time.
  4. A happy flow rate is one thought expressed in or 6-10 words at a time.
  5. Don’t use phrases that won’t translate, such as “neat as a pin”, or “running around with her hair on fire.” These create a distracting picture in the mind of the listener, and your translator will struggle to find a substitute or explain the cliché.
  6. When reading chunks of scripture, decide ahead of time whether you want to read all the verses in English and then have the translator read from his or her Bible or read a phrase or verse at a time. Once you set the pattern, stick to it.
  7. Don’t make mumbling aside comments. Your translator will need to translate those too. It puts everyone off track and you lose precious time.
  8. Practice with a translator at home to find the rhythm that is comfortable.
  9. Have grace. Even leaders who work with translators all the time occasionally are so passionate about their topic or conversation, they forget to let the translator speak. Have grace with yourself and others if–when!–this happens and repeat the most important points for the translator to start from where they left off. (Don’t just stare at them and hope they can remember it all.) Having your notes written out ahead can help alleviate this problem, because you can make marks on where to pause, or the translator can go back to your English notes to catch up.
  10. Don’t forget to thank your translator (publicly is good!) or let them ask questions. It is hard work!

Have you worked as translator or with a translator and have another tip to add? Please share it with us!

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