Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Work with a Translator

Why it’s difficult:
When working with a translator, there is a temptation to think, “Well, this shouldn’t be too difficult.” You are, after all, still speaking English. However, as anyone who has worked with a translator knows too well, it is quite difficult. This false presumption of ease becomes problematic. The irony is that teams who have prepared for so many details of a trip often forget to address this critically important element.

Working with a translator is also difficult because it’s rhythmically unnatural. You would never stop what you were saying to a friend or in a sermon mid-thought or mid-sentence to pause. Yet, when working with a translator you must pause regularly.

Another difficulty when working with a translator comes from idioms that have snuck into your language. Growing up speaking English you’ve mastered all the hidden nuances that go into language. This is not a problem with other native English speakers but can be a huge problem when communicating through a translator.

While there may be more issues involved, this document is meant to address these specific issues. Hopefully, since you are reading this, you’ve already avoided the first pit-fall of not planning on working with a translator, and we can now address the other two issues.

The following are just some helpful hints and some training tips that hopefully will make your time and, more importantly, your ministry with the Songhai more effective.

Testimony Training Tips:
Developing a short, gospel-centered testimony is crucial for every member of the team, who should all be ready at any instant to give a reason for the Hope they have in Christ. The exercises listed here help you prepare to give that testimony through a translator.

Rhythmic Testimony Practice
  • Pair off into groups of twos. Take a minute and share your short gospel-centered testimony with one another as you would to a fellow native English speaker.
  • After doing this, repeat your testimonies to one another but breaking them up with pauses. To make sure the pauses are long enough have your partner repeat the sentence you just said.
    Ex. “Hello, my name is Mark” (partner repeats) “and I would like to tell you about everlasting life” (partner repeats), etc.
  • GOAL: This gets the speaker used to very unnatural pauses. If you say too much before a pause, it will be hard for someone to translate. Try to speak in brief, flowing phrases.
Short and Simple Testimony Practice
  • Have someone share their testimony to the group via translator (another member of the group).
  • After the person sharing says something, the translator needs to repeat what was said but in the simplest way.
    EX. Testimony giver: “I want to tell you about being cleansed in the life-giving blood of Jesus.” Translator: “He wants to talk to you about Jesus”
  • Take turns allowing everyone in the group to participate.
  • GOAL: The goal here is simplicity. The group needs to be listening for idioms that might not be understood by the people you are speaking to and possibly even the translator. This could be religious jargon such as “putting God in a box” or “washed in the blood of Jesus” or maybe just odd English phrases such as “who fixed the chicken?” We all understand this is asking “who cooked or prepared the chicken” but direct translation would make it sound like the chicken was broken. As a group, listen for idioms and help the speaker arrive at the simplest way to say their testimony.
Focus Testimony Practice
  • Have someone share their testimony to the group via translator (another member of the group).
  • As the testimony giver begins their text, the translator needs to say something completely different than what was just said. They could read a recipe or a newspaper or just make up something.
    EX. Testimony Giver: “Hello, my name is Mark and I would like to tell you about Jesus.” Translator: “The Chicago Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons last night 110 to 98.”
  • GOAL: It’s surprisingly difficult to stay focused on your text when you are hearing something completely different being said directly after you (i.e. another language). This helps the testimony giver stay focused on their text without trying to listen to what’s being said directly after them.
Distractions Testimony Practice
  • Using either the “focus testimony practice” or the “simple testimony practice,” have a testimony translated.
  • The difference here is learning how to deal with distractions. The rest of the group can be as creative in coming up with distractions. Someone could have a loud conversation, play with their cell phone, turn the lights on an off, etc.
  • GOAL: The goal is learning to keep pressing on in the midst of distractions. It’s good to think through how you’ll handle distractions on the field.

Helpful Hints:
  • Speak slowly and precisely in short complete thoughts. (Sometimes it’s easier to translate short phrases that contain the whole thought. Stopping in mid-sentence or mid-thought may be difficult to be understood).
  • Speak to the audience, not the translator.
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience. Do not wear sunglasses when you are teaching or speaking directly to people.
  • Do not develop a side discussion between just you and the translator.
  • Make sure you give your translator time to finish the translation before beginning to speak again.

Songhai Specific:
While the above principals apply across the board when working with a translator, there are some key cultural considerations to be aware of when working with the Songhai.
  • Because of their orality and interdependence, Songhai people neither listen to nor process new ideas as Westerners. Expect those listening to your stories to respond verbally to you and talk about what they are hearing with their neighbor while you are teaching. It is often distracting to Americans to have people milling around the perimeter, talking to others, or standing and greeting others in front of you, but this is village community life.
  • The Songhai are mostly Muslim. This can help as you build bridges with some of the great characters of the Old Testament that they will be familiar with (at least their names). However, emphasis must be placed on Jesus’ uniqueness and his not being merely a man or merely a prophet.
  • West Africans in general process information and make decisions as family and community groups. A son would shame his family to make a big decision without consulting with his father and possibly uncles as well. This is good to think about when calling for a decision. Perhaps it would be best to present the entire plan of salvation and then allow an afternoon or an evening to process and talk through what’s been said before demanding a decision to be made.
  • You will undoubtedly develop a friendship with your translator. He will be your mouth and your ears for an entire week. Use caution however when exchanging emails and phone numbers and never promise to send packages or gifts. Please tell your Songhai Team Host if your translator asks for financial aid or a gift or if you are having any problems with your translator.
  • Your translator will be your cultural link to the Songhai people. It is good to ask him, “Is this culturally appropriate?” often.

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