Hints for Working with Translators


Hints for Working with Translators

Preparation and discussion with translator:

  1. Ask the Lord to give you a translator suitable for the occasion of your ministry. 
  2. If it is possible to choose your own translator, choose a national (not a foreigner), a person you has a good, working knowledge of English, has a good grasp of Biblical truths and terms, and someone with whom you feel one in spirit and purpose.  However, generally a visiting speaker does not usually have the luxury of choosing his/her own translator.   Display a thankful attitude for the one that is assigned the task to translate your message.
  3. If possible, give your translator an outline of your message a day or more before the meeting.   Prepare your outline with your translator in mind, i.e. keep your outline simple and basic, don’t use poetry or alliteration as it won’t work in another language, and use only a minimal number of Scripture references.   Focus on good, clear communication.  Make your translator’s task as straightforward and as enjoyable as possible.   Remember that most translators find translating very difficult and stressful, anticipating that they will be put on the spot and feel very embarrassed because they won’t know how to translate some of the words you will use.
  4. Spend some time going over the major themes and points of the message with him/her.  Read together any verses you have chosen.  Be aware that in some languages, some words may be quite different to the words found in our English Bible, e.g. translation of Hebrew word, chesed, is “love” in English but “mercy” in German.  Consequently, in such instances, instead of criticising their Bible, you will need to find Scriptures that mean the same.  Be also aware that in some languages, the numbering of Bible verses may differ to our English Bibles, e.g. in some languages, the heading or title of some Psalms becomes verse 1. 
  5. Pray together beforehand asking the Lord’s help for both of you.  Tell your translator that you will be praying for him/her as you serve the Lord together.
  6. Emphasise to your translator the importance of his/her role in your ministry. Remember that your hearers/audience won’t understand your message!  Make sure that you help your translator to see himself/herself as a co-minister of God’s message. 
  7. Stress to your translator that his/her task of translating is more than merely translating words and sentences correctly, but communicating God’s message in the most understandable, equivalent idiom (cf. dynamic equivalence with literal translation).
  8. Encourage your translator to relax with you and if possible to mimic any body movements, e.g. hand movements.  However, do not embarrass them by forcing them to mimic you.  In such situations, adapt yourself to their style rather than forcing them to adopt your approach.
  9. Tell the translator that if he/she doesn’t understand every word, to translate the gist of the sentence rather than stopping and asking for the meaning of particular words.  It is preferable for them to guess the meaning so that you can keep up with the flow of the message. 


Basic “dos & don’ts”:

  1. Do speak in complete but short sentences.
  2. Do speak clearly, simply and slowly.  Move your mouth so that any who also understand English in your audience can enjoy hearing the message twice!
  3. Don’t use colloquial language or idioms. 
  4. Do speak to your audience, not to your translator. 
  5. Do be careful about using contractions, e.g. “don’t”, “can’t” etc.
  6. Don’t use illustrations and stories that will be difficult to interpret into the idiom of the local culture and society.
  7. Do be careful in your use of humour.  Do not tell jokes or use humour that makes fun of the local people and their culture.  Remember that humour is often very culture-specific.  Furthermore, telling jokes in a Christian talk may not be culturally appropriate. 
  8. Don’t ever embarrass your translator, e.g. by using him/her as the focus of an example or illustration.
  9. Do wait for your translator to finish his/her translation before you speak out the next sentence. 
  10. Do rephrase your sentence if the translator fails to understand.
  11. Don’t express impatience or anger when your translator doesn’t quickly understand.  Show grace and patience, even when he/she seems to experience difficulty in understanding you, your accent or some of your vocabulary.
  12. Don’t read verses from your own Bible.  Invite your translator to read the verse(s) from his/her Bible in the national language.  Don’t use too many verses.  Remember that the translator may not
  13. Do express thanks to your translator for his/her help.
  14. Do plan the length of your talk or message carefully remembering that it will take double the time! 

Graham Roberts

OM’s Missionary Training School, Czech Republic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *