5 Tips for Talking Through a Translator
May 23, 2016
By Matt Morrison
One of the most difficult challenges to short-term mission trips is the language barrier between you and those you’re trying to reach. Cross-cultural ministry requires plenty of intentionality and care. But learning to work through a translator effectively can make all the difference.
On e3 expeditions, you’re paired one-on-one with a bilingual national believer who can help you communicate with others. This person will often function as a guide and friend throughout your experience. Here are five tips for making the most of this relationship and breaking the language barrier:
Talk with him or her ahead of time.
Everyone thinks and processes information differently. Your translator may have a specific way he or she wants to interpret your language. Ask for clarity on how the other person is most comfortable working with you and do everything you can to accommodate them.
Speak in complete phrases and ideas.
Translation isn’t a word-for-word science. Before your translator can interpret what you’re saying, he or she must first know the entire idea. Speak in one or two complete sentences at a time and let them interpret your entire message. Over time, you’ll learn how much you can give him or her at once.
Avoid jokes or slang.
There’s nothing wrong with joking but they often don’t translate into other languages. The same goes for common slang and idioms we often speak in English. As best as possible, avoid jokes or vague phrases as they may be difficult to relay to the other culture. Remember, your translator likely hasn’t watched your favorite T.V. shows or listened to your music.
Speak with your audience, not your translator.
If you’ve never spoken through a translator, the temptation is to look him or her in the eye when speaking rather than the individual you’re speaking with. Position your translator between you and the other person and look your intended audience in the eye. Make them the center of your attention. As you get used to the process, this will come more naturally.
Have fun together!
The relationship between you and your translator may be the most important one you develop over your mission trip. Get to know each other, have fun, laugh together, and focus on developing a meaningful bond. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to establish a great relationship and disciple another believer overseas.
Chances are you’ll make mistakes along the way but that’s just part of the experience. Feel comfortable laughing it off together and moving forward. God wants to use both of you in powerful ways over the course of your trip.