I had never preached with a translator before. But during my time in Portugal last month, I had the experience of preaching four times through a translator. What did I learn from this new experience?
The best translator is a fellow preacher
When choosing a translator, it would be tempting to simply opt for the best linguist one could find. That would be a mistake. Certainly, adeptness with languages is important, but my time in the Iberian peninsula showed me the immense value of having a translator whose ‘day job’ is preaching. Rogerio Ramos didn’t simply translate my words; he preached my sermon!
Sermon preview is vital
A few days before preaching together I gave Rogerio my sermon notes. Rogerio was able to query any words he was unsure of; he was also able to advise me where my ideas wouldn’t “come across” in a Portuguese context. This meant I could make adjustments to my sermon if necessary. It also meant that Rogerio was better prepared for the forthcoming translation.
Use short but complete sentences
This was new to me. I discovered that there are two pitfalls to be avoided in constructing sentences for translation. One danger is lengthy sentences. The problem with this is obvious. When sentences are overly-long, the translator has difficulty remembering all that you have said. But there can also be a difficulty when one’s sentences are short but incomplete. When I preach only half a sentence then pause, I may not be helping the translator. Preaching a complete idea makes it easier for your partner to translate the sentence. The best practice is to preach in complete sentences but keep them short.
Keep the pace up
Translation can become slow and ponderous. It is vital that both preacher and translator keep the pace up. I was ready to come in immediately after Rogerio had completed his translation. Together we managed to establish a certain “rhythm” to our collaborative preaching. Surprisingly, the overall length of the sermon was not much longer than I would normally preach.
Depend more on God than oratory
You realise how truly powerless your own oratory is when you cannot speak a local language. You are entirely dependent on the translator. You are even more dependent on God. Preaching with translation raised significant and helpful questions for me. Do I overrate the importance of eloquence in preaching? Do I have confidence in the bare Word of God? Do I believe that the Scriptures are sufficient to make a saving and sanctifying impact across linguistic and cultural borders?Tweet