Oral Translation Tips

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Tips on Oral Translation / Interpretation

By Wagner S. Vila

The points below are observations from myself and other interpreters which will be helpful for others practicing simultaneous oral translation. Thanks to all those that gave their input.

For The Speaker

  1. Remember to send your preaching notes to the person who will translate. This will bless the translator and give him/her time to prepare for the translation. When you do not send the notes you take the risk of compromising your preaching/teaching. Some terms are new or difficult and the interpreter may not know them and may use words that are out of context or misinterpret it - using another word just to fill the gap or will not translate at all. It means that the real meaning of your teaching can change. You have to bear the responsibility if it happens.
  2. Take in consideration the level of the language that the translator has. Your language might be the interpreter’s second, third or fourth language.
  3. Arrive at the church/YWAM base/house church half hour earlier and sit with the translator/interpreter to ask if he/she got the notes and has any questions about the teaching. Explain any question that he/she may have. You may want to rehearsal the teaching with the interpreter a day before.
  4. Remember the person probably does not know many idiomatic expressions, slang terms or things/names common/popular to the speaker's home country. If is that so do not use them rather explain the concepts in simple words while teaching/preaching. You may want to use visual resources (photos, PPT, video, drawing, etc.).
  5. While teaching/preaching avoid exposing the interpreter to shame. Do not do jokes about the way he/she translate (especially in Asian countries) rather encourage the person. Some people are learning how to translate and if you make jokes the person could be ashamed and give up doing it in the future.
  6. Try to explain to the interpreter the dynamic of the teaching. If you are an outgoing preacher/teacher explain to the person that certain hand motions or body language are part of your teaching style therefore he needs to follow your motions in order to bring emotions, life, dynamic to the teaching. Do not exaggerate in it (motions) and make sure it is not offensive in that culture. Especially hand motions.
  7. Some speakers are very active, and should not expect the translator to imitate them accordingly - the translator may have an opposite personally than the speaker. But the translator still should express the same kind of emotion with voice or face or hands.
  8. Speak slower, not as fast as you’re used to talking to your own countryman. Stop at a sentence, if the sentence/concept is very long, stop at a place where the concept can be broken down.

To The Interpreter

  1. Meet with the teacher/preacher before the meeting and ask questions about the topic, words, and concepts.
  2. Request the teaching notes days before the teaching or at least few hours before. Explain the risk of misinterpretation if the teacher does not give you the notes before.
  3. Remind the teacher that you want to do the best but it’s always a challenge to interpret simultaneously. You two need to work together and make sure concepts are clear to the public.
  4. Follow the teacher motions in order to explain better concepts to the audient. It also helps on keep the audience attention during the teaching. Teachings with translation are tiring for the audience and if you do not push yourself to help them staying motivated they will certainly sleep. You may not be able to follow all motions, but should have the same emotion from your voice or/and facial expression or show a smaller motion with your hands.
  5. Dress well and in accord to the speaker. Not better than the speaker so that you will not call attention to yourself.
  6. Maintain your excitement in the same level as the speaker. If you get more excited you may take the attention from the teaching to you.
  7. Be humble!!!! And enjoy the time doing it! It’s a gift from God to be able to interpret. The church need it and its part of the gift of tongues so… apply it well.
  8. Remember… to the audience you are the speaker’s voice.
  9. Pray and ask God for grace and wisdom during the interpretation.
  10. If you get in trouble understanding the words do not show frustration in front of the audience. Just pause (away from the microphone) and ask the speaker to repeat what he said again. Some speakers do not have patience and get irritated easily. If this happens just ignore it and keep working the best you can.
  11. If you find yourself translating a teaching that you do not agree with or believe you have three choices:
    1. Let it go and understand that it is the speakers responsibility before God.
    2. Leave the place and ask someone to replace you. If this is the case be polite do not provoke problems.
    3. Keep doing your job and don't show resentment on your face. You can discuss this with the speaker afterward.
    • This is another reason why you should meet the speaker before or have his/her notes beforehand. You can check the concept before.
  12. Flow with the Holy Spirit. Be sensitive to His voice as you translate and if God speaks something with you during the translation find a proper time to share with the speaker during or after the teaching.
  13. Observe the audience. Take in consideration their level of education and use words that they will understand. Do not use words that will make no sense. Try contextualizing your examples, explanations and vocabulary. Ask in advance how many people will be there. Some people get nervous before big number of people. It will help you to prepare your heart. Also ask what kind of people will be at the meeting.
  14. Never translate seated if the speaker is standing or vice-verse. It makes very hard to the speaker. Also demotivates the audience.
  15. Try to keep your voice at the same level as the speaker. Pause when he pauses, shout when he shouts, laugh when he laughs, cry when he cries, lower your voice when he lowers his, etc.
  16. Translate sentence by sentence and after the speaker not at the same time. Sometimes you will have to listen to the thought and then translate so that it makes sense to the audience.
  17. Recognize that you may not know some words and that is ok. We are all learning even our own mother tongue.
  18. Christian vocabulary is one kind of vocabulary. There are many others like business, medical, technical, industrial, etc. Do not translate special vocabulary without doing some good research and study the words before.