Tips for Foreign Speakers and Their Interpreters
By Dave Johnson
[If you are hosting someone who will speak through an interpreter, you may wish to provide these to the speakers and their interpreters in advance. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.—Ben Franklin]
Over the years I have had the opportunity to observe many foreign speakers and those who interpret for them. I have also served as the interpreter on numerous occasions. Most speakers work well with interpreters and most interpreters are good. But I have noticed a number of things that, if done, will help make the process better for all concerned. My communication goal has always been that everyone understands everything that is said.
For the Foreign Speakers
1. Remember that interpretation is a difficult art. Please purpose to make the process as easy for your interpreter as possible.
2. Meet with the interpreter before the service if possible to discuss your message and how you wish to conduct the altar call or question and answer period. If you can, offer them a copy of your notes. If you have a question and answer period and a question offered in English, it should still be translated in respect to those present who do not speak English.
3. Remember that interpretation is not an exact science. Tagalog, like many other languages, is somewhat longer than English and can take a bit more time to express.
4. Remember to maintain eye contact with the listeners, not your interpreter. It is sufficient to see them just out of the corner of your eye.
5. Pause every one or two sentences for the interpretation. Going longer than this without stopping increases the possibility that the interpreter will forget part of what you say.
6. Reduce or eliminate figures of speech or idiomatic expressions as these often get lost in interpretation.
7. Use smaller words. For example, “Try” is better than “Endeavor.”
8. Avoid the use of the double negative as Filipinos are not accustomed to this form of speaking and may not hear the second negative, making the interpretation exactly the opposite of what you intend. For example, if you say “I did not say that I would not go to church, it might be translated as “I said I’m not going to church!!” It’s far better to say, “I will go to church.”
9. Filipinos consider the word “stupid” as borderline profane, so please try to avoid it. On the other hand, the word “dumb” is fine!!
10. Beware of being overly dependent on alliteration, acrostics, or any type of word play, as they normally don’t translate well into other languages. Having an alliterative outline might work, but if your message is overly dependent on these things, the force of your message will most likely be lost in translation.
11. Remember that humor doesn’t cross cultural boundaries well and, generally speaking, is best avoided unless you know the cultural situation well or you don’t mind your jokes falling flat in front of you.
12. If only one microphone is available, please swallow your pride and give it to your interpreter. Remember, your message is being interpreted for a reason, and that reason means it’s more important for people to hear the translator. As long as the interpreter can hear you, your message will be communicated.
13. Ministering cross culturally is a wonderful journey, so ENJOY THE TRIP!!
1. Try to meet with the speaker before the service to discuss their message. Don’t be afraid to request a copy of their notes if you need them.
2. Remember that some speakers are not used to using interpreters, so please be patient.
3. Stand next to the speaker, not off to the side.
4. Maintain eye with the audience, not the speaker. You need to hear him or her, not look at them. If it’s a man, he probably isn’t that handsome anyway!!
5. Remember that you are the speaker’s mouthpiece, and you should speak as that person. For example, if they say “I’m glad to be here,” don’t say “he says he is glad to be here.” Instead say, “I am glad to be here.”
6. If the speaker gets excited, you get excited!
7. As much as possible, moderate your voice to match that of the speaker. If they shout, you shout!! If they whisper, you whisper, etc.
8. Do not feel that you have to translate for word. Speak naturally using idioms and figures of speech that are a part of your language.
9. Preach the same message as the speaker. To do otherwise is unethical and bears a false witness (Exodus 20:16). If you don’t understand something the speaker says, please stop them and ask them to repeat themselves. If you still cannot understand them, you might consider humbling yourself and asking to be replaced.
10. Have fun!!