I have a friend, Scott Garber, in the US who has been an interpreter for his church for a number of years. When we started planning the new ministry, I reached out to him for some pointers. With his permission, below are his thoughts:
- It’s difficult to do the translation in the same space (or even off in a corner) as the main service. It just creates too much distracting noise. So, you have to figure out how the hearers are going to get the sound. At our church we give the listeners earpieces that fit over one ear and receive a radio signal (I suppose, as i don’t deal with the transmission of the sound). That allows them to follow the original audio as well. If you’re not going to translate everything (for instance, if you translate only the sermon) or if the listeners are also trying to learn Romanian, the live audio comes in handy. Plus, a full headset would make it hard to follow the live music.
- The translator needs to be in a space where he or she can concentrate without distractions. I’m in a studio, where I have a monitor and a headset with a mic. It doesn’t have to be such a dedicated space, but stuff is going on around you that diverts your attention you’ll get behind and then have to start summarizing and paraphrasing to catch up. Or just lose track of what’s being said while you’re talking. You could do it without video, I suppose, but the video makes it a lot easier to follow. If the speaker writes anything or uses graphics, you’d get kind of lost without video. It also allows you to see the song lyrics if they are projected.
- Translation works better if you have multiple services, even if you’re translating only one. That way the translator can attend a service before translating and think through/look up any tricky bits rather than being caught flat-footed. Plus, it allows the translator to have a worship experience, as translating is work. And to have any Scripture passages bookmarked before translating, so that those can just be read rather than having to translate them. If you have just one service there are things you can do to help the translator. All of these will also enhance the translation, even if the translator has a chance to experience the service beforehand. Having sermon notes ahead will allow them to make sure they have the best possible terminology for key words and main points. Plus, it will give them the Scripture passage ahead of time. If you want to translate the music, having the lyrics ahead of time is very helpful. If you’re translating into English, in many cases the translator could find the English lyrics. If not, it’s still helpful to see the Romanian lyrics, as poetic language can be trickier than normal speech, and it can throw translators for a loop. If you do dramas, it’s also really helpful to have that script ahead of time.
- You have to determine which portions of the service you will translate. At the U.N. they switch out translators every 20 min. or so (I’ve been told). I do an hour and a half (minus some announcements and instrumental music), and it’s a lot. We don’t get the lyrics ahead of time, so not all of our translators even attempt to do music. Even though it would be handy to be able to switch out translators and keep them fresh, if you’re working with volunteers on a rotational basis it can get logistically hairy to find enough people if you have to use more than one per week, especially if that requires them to attend two services.
- I would suggest that you have at least a couple or three people that you can count on. One person might start with great enthusiasm but could easily get burnt out. Plus, if that person is away or ill, the people who have come to depend on translation are left high and dry.
- If you are streaming the services you’ll have to decide whether or not translation will be part of that package and how to pull it off technically. You might want to work out the kinks and make sure that you’re really going to continue with translation long-term before you cross this bridge..
- I think it’s important to have somebody who understands both languages monitor the translation, at least initially and from time to time, to make sure that you don’t have wildly divergent quality levels and that it’s actually working. Not everybody who is an expert in both languages can do simultaneous translation, so having some quality control can help determine if the translator(s) is capable. Feedback can also help improve performance over time. We don’t do this at our church, but I think we should. I know that some people, like me, are really translating, whereas I have the sense that some are just giving periodic summaries or very loose paraphrases. Your pastor(s) might not be happy to have people “flavoring” their messages too much.