Ten Tips on Teaching Through Translation

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

With the vast advances in transportation and communication in recent years, it is becoming increasing common for pastors and seminary professors to go on missions trips to teach short-term Bible courses.  There is a lot of good that can come from such trips, but also many possible snares.  In this post, I want to address just one of these snares, the challenging task of teaching or preaching through translation.  Teaching in the local language is far and away the best way to teach but if you must teach through translation, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Only plan on speaking for half of the time that has been given you.  Anything that needs to be translated takes double the time that it would take normally.
  2. Allow time for the translator to finish what he is saying before starting to speak again.  Don’t start up again as soon as there is the slightest pause because the translator might still be figuring out how to best express what you’ve said.
  3. Avoid figures of speech, alliterations, puns, jokes, and any points that depend on understanding the language that you are speaking.
  4. Avoid illustrations that are foreign to your audience.  If you are teaching in a hot, tropical country, that brilliant illustration about shoveling snow will fall on dead ears.
  5. Speak clearly and enunciate well.
  6. Speak at a moderate pace, resisting the urge to speak as quickly as possible to cram more in because your time is limited.
  7. Use short sentences.  Long sentences are more difficult for the translator to remember.  Only use long rambling sentences if you don’t care whether all that you say is being translated.
  8. Speak in nuggets of complete thought.  Don’t leave off in the middle of a half-presented thought in order for the translator to catch up because conditional phrases and other types of argument/logic are often constructed differently in other languages.
  9. If you have learned some phrases of the local language and want to build rapport with your listeners, use the phrases at the beginning or end of the talk.  Throwing them out in the middle can confuse the translator because he is expecting one language, and then hears another. Or he might think that you are still speaking your own language because you’ve slaughtered his so badly.
  10. Be willing to laugh at yourself.  Misunderstanding is bound to happen at some point during the translation process and not taking yourself too seriously goes a long way towards building rapport with your listeners.

For Further Reading

Writing for Translation: 7 Translation Tips to Boost Content Quality

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