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Flora Maira | How to Work with a Translator

When ministering in a foreign nation, one of the biggest challenges is working with a translator. In today’s podcast, I talk with Pastor Flora Maira who did a great job translating for me at a crusade in Kahama, Tanzania. We discuss the worst mistakes people make when using a translator and explain ways you can avoid making those mistakes.

Notes: How to Work with a Translator

1. Sit down with your translator before ministering and tell him about your sermon.

2. Use short sentences and pause in-between each sentence.

3. Speak in complete ideas; not bits of sentences.

4. Use the time the translator is speaking to think of your next sentence.

5. Give the translator time to translate.

6. Don’t allow a bad translator to kill a service.

7. Speak slowly and distinctly with good pronunciation.

8. Don’t use puns, idioms, colloquialisms, or slang.

9. Stop using “Christanise” vocabulary.

10. Be sensitive to cultural differences.

11. Be cautious about telling jokes.

12. Be careful using illustrations from an affluent Western culture.



Evangelism Coach Daniel King (00:00):
When ministering in a foreign nation, one of the biggest challenges is working with a translator in today’s podcast. I talk with pastor flora, Myra, who did a great job translating for me at a crusade in Kahala, Tanzania, we discussed the worst mistakes people make when using a translator and explain ways you can avoid making those mistakes. Jesus said, go into all the world and preach the gospel. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Welcome to the evangelism podcast with Dr. Daniel King we’re Daniel interviews, full-time evangelists, pastors, missionaries, and normal everyday Christians to discover how they share their faith, their powerful testimonies and amazing stories that will inspire you to reach people with the good news. And now here’s your host, missionary and evangelist Daniel King.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (01:03):
Yeah. Evangelism podcast. I’m excited about telling people about Jesus. I’m in Kahala Tanzania right now. And we are going to talk about translating because often when you go to preach the gospel in a different country, you have to work with a translator and we have had a excellent translator this week. Her name is miss flora, Ms. Flora, thank you so much for joining me today.

Flora Maira (01:30):
Thank you so much evangelist, Daniel. Thank you.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (01:33):
Now you have done a good job working hand in hand with me in, in translating during the great gospel crusade, thousands of people were there. Thousands of people gave their lives to Jesus. And so what would you say are some of the things that make a preacher easy to work with when you’re translating?

Flora Maira (01:55):
Thank you for what you need to share my experience. Who’s there many factors, but one of the things which I have experienced, especially we had time to talk for you to tell me about what the message is going to be about. And of course, because it involves some dramas as well, we released. So it’s kind of gives you a head start of what to expect. And even when you know, like the passage of the scriptures that is going to be read, you can go and read it already. So it’s kind of refreshes you, but also it does help that when the speaker or the preacher, if they’re not very fast, if they are, if they peace, they are talking to that as a help because it gives the translator the chance to translate the words in their mind and get the right words to speak in that language that we would understand.

Flora Maira (02:45):
So of course it takes a lot of experience because once you have worked with many preachers or many speakers, then you build up that experience. And every, every time you get a different experience, but I find getting time to share what the messages is going to be about. It helps to prepare, but also cause praying take a lot of time to pray because as we all know that in all of sense, the translator is just as important as a preacher. If not more, because if you interpret wrongly, then the whole message is distorted. So it’s extremely, the job on their translator is extremely important. So I find that those things that I’m the person who’s preaching as well, once they are experienced with a translator. So they face are talking. So they’re not too fast to allowing the translator to translate, but also taking time together before talk about the message. It helps it as well. They translate that well.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (03:43):
Yeah, I think there’s two mistakes that beginning preachers make. The first one would be to speak too short. So just do one word or two words instead of doing a full phrase or a full font. So that’s one mistake. The other mistake that sometimes people make is they just start talking and they don’t stop. They’ll do a paragraph or two paragraphs and it’s very difficult for the translator to, to catch up. And so I try to give a full thought with each sentence and then stop and allow the translator the time to, to translate. So tell me, how did I do in, in, in working with you this week,

Flora Maira (04:22):
You did extremely well because I don’t remember one single incident where I felt like I’m struggling to concentrate because when you are translating you, you, you you’re concentrating harder because you have to get the words clearly what the preacher’s saying. And when you are listening to them, you are finding the right words to speak. So, but your pace was absolutely perfect. I didn’t feel stressed at all. Sometimes you work with some preachers and you feel less stressed because they are very fast and also they speak a lot. Like, as you say, they’ll speak it all paragraph or two. And it’s like, ah, what am I going to do? So sometimes of course, because I’m an experienced translator. What I do, I speak things in context. So sometimes what I ended up doing is I don’t translate word to word. I take the message and kind of paraphrase to make sure I don’t lose the context because of course, what is important for what to get the message rather than to get every word. So I work with people depending on who, how the preacher goes, if they are, they speak a lot of words before they give me a chance what I do with these four 50 words, I’ll tell you two 30 words just to make sure I don’t lose the message. So that’s how I cope with different types of preachers.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (05:35):
Okay. I have a list here of some ideas for working with translators. One idea which you have already mentioned is to sit down with your translator before ministering into tell her about the sermon. And so that way you can already look up the scripture, be prepared to know where the sermon is going and helps with what you’re doing. So if you have time, sit down with your, your interpreter. Another thing is to use short sentences and to make sure you pause in between each sentence, speak in complete ideas, not bits of sentences. Then here’s another thing that is nice about speaking with a translator. You can use the time that the transmitter is speaking to think of what your next sentence is going to be. So you actually don’t have to think as fast as if you were just preaching, you have time to think, and that gives you the chance to pick very carefully the right words that you’re going to say. And then you must give the te the translator time to translate. Talk to me about that. Sometimes people don’t give you enough time to, to say what you’re, you’re trying to say.

Flora Maira (06:45):
I have actually had that many, many times where people who say they are not used to speaking through a translator. So what they do is like, they go, boom, boom, boom, boom. And it’s like, whatever I taught business, it’s up to you. What do you do with the people? But you know, they kind of continue speaking and speaking. So while you’re translating, they also speaking. So in that situation, it means I am supposed to be what I’m talking. I’m also listening to you. I’m also at the same time trying to find the right words for that. So it becomes a little bit distrustful, but I’ve been through that situation many times before, but by the grace of God, because I’m also very fast to speak up, I talk very fast. So I think I also think very fast. So that helps me to kind of manage with different situations. And yeah,

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (07:29):
Like my wife, she’s very good at speaking. And anytime we have a disagreement, I can never win because she always speaks more and faster than I can.

Flora Maira (07:38):
Good for you. You’re you’re right. And to be honest, I’ve translated for many, many minutes preachers before. And the, this is actually my first experience of having a preacher, asking me to sit down with them and for them to tell me what they are going to talk about. It’s my first time ever. So in my, all the previous times that I’ve translated, I’ve never actually had the chance of sitting with someone, for them to tell me what they were going to talk about, et cetera, et cetera. So it was like, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. But as I say, because by God’s grace, I, I talk very fast and I also am a preacher myself. So that also helps. And then a, yeah, just, I cope with it that way. And so far, I’ve never really had an experience where I felt I was terrible translation or it’s been okay so far.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (08:31):
So another idea is to speak slowly and distinctly with good pronunciation, especially when you go to another country, maybe they have a different accent or a different way of talking. And so you have to speak with good pronunciation. Also, it’s important not to use puns and idioms, colloquialisms or slang, you know, in America we have many different ways of saying things. Then they say them perhaps in great Britain, which you’ve spent some time in great Britain and it may be different than how they learn English in school here in Tanzania. And so have you ever had a chance where a speaker said something in in any of them that you had never heard before?

Flora Maira (09:18):
Probably has happened, but not that many times is you’ve just mentioned that I’ve had the privilege of being in England for 20 years. So, and I’m always like English was my medium of communication every day at my workplace, et cetera, et cetera. So I am quite good at English. So that’s not been a big problem as far as a concern. And of course it was the accent as well, because sometimes it was an American accent. People can have difficult hearing, but because of the experience I’ve had, I’ve really not had any problem with you or with Paul in the, you know, kind of what, what did he say? So it’s been okay so far.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (09:54):
Okay. Let me give you a test. Let’s see. I’m going to give you some things that people say in America and you tell me what they mean. Okay. The lights are on, but nobody is home.

Flora Maira (10:07):
The lights are on, but nobody’s home. You want me to say, what does

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (10:12):
That mean? What does it mean?

Flora Maira (10:18):
I’ve never heard of that Zane before.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (10:20):
Okay. So let me tell you what it means. It means that a person is alive, but it’s not very smart. So the lights are on in their house, but there’s nobody here. There’s nothing up here. Interesting. Yeah. So, so when pigs fly, if someone says, when pigs fly, what does that mean? Okay. So that means that something is totally impossible because if you say, when it’s flying, it means they will never fly. So that is totally impossible to pig out. What does to pick out?

Flora Maira (10:55):
No, I have no idea, but I’ll,

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (10:57):
This is something said in America, lots, maybe not setting great Britain or in Tanzania, but to pick out means to eat like a pig, eat lots and lots and lots of foods. So this is, this is an example of some things that people would say in the United States that would maybe not be understood in all parts of the world. So you have to think about what you are saying, just because they understand it in one area. Now give me an example of maybe a saying that they would say it in great Britain and see if I can figure out what this means. What would be something unique? The way that people say in great Britain?

Flora Maira (11:40):

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (11:41):
One thing they say a lot is, Oh, that’s really good. You hear that? Which of course means it’s very smart or something, but we wouldn’t say that so much in America.

Flora Maira (11:54):
Wow. That’s interesting. Because I would think that that probably is very common, common thing to say. So, yeah. That’s brilliant. Wow.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (12:03):
So I’ve got a whole list of things get down to brass tacks, put a sock in it to drink like a fish. Do you know what to drink? Like a fish? It means you drink like a fish. You drink lots of alcohol, someone who drinks like a fish, it means they’re always getting drunk. You know, bet your bottom dollar, it’s a dog eat dog world. It just means that the world is very tough that everyone is like barking dogs. They’re always fighting over everything. Yeah. So there’s many different sayings that would only really apply to maybe one area of the world. And so it’s very important to use clear common language that would be understood everywhere. Another thing is to be careful with using Christianese vocabulary. So by Christian names, what I mean is the language that Christians use. It’s okay to use language that Christians use.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (12:58):
But if you’re speaking to non-Christians, you must define the word. And so I don’t know if you noticed this, but when I was preaching last night, we talked about sin. Maybe someone who’s not a Christian doesn’t know what sin is. So I explained sin is when you disobeyed God’s commands or say, you talk about repentance. Of course, everyone in the church understands what repentance is, but someone who has never been to church or has never gone to church, they don’t know what repented. So if I talk about repentance, I mean, I say repentance means to turn away from your sin and to turn towards Jesus. And so that gives a clear picture of what it means to repent. And so sometimes you just have to be careful with using Christianese vocabulary. Like people often talk about the former and the latter house or the Valley of dry bones or the Rose of Sharon. Well, of course, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know, those things come from the old Testament, but if you’re not familiar with the Bible, you may not know what they mean. Also it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences. Also be cautious about telling jokes. Sometimes telling jokes is very hard when you come to another country, because a joke that’s funny in one country, maybe they don’t really understand this. Have you ever had someone tell a joke that was just impossible to translate?

Flora Maira (14:25):
Yeah, not very many times, but I, I think probably for most people who are kind of international, they’re kind of getting to learn that you do have to be very, very careful with the jokes because not only that people might not find funny. Sometimes it may be offensive. So if you are preaching, the last thing you want is to offend people, because then you’re putting them off. It’s like, Oh, this person is not appropriate. So you’re right. That when we are giving jobs, when they’re giving examples, we have to be very careful and cultural sensitive because we have such diversity in cultures from one place to another. So one thing that might be funny, one community in one society might be completely offensive to others.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (15:10):
I, I find that one humor that seems to work well is humor. That is laughing at the preacher. And so like yesterday, I said some words in Swahili and of course I do not speak Swahili. So I am sure that I mispronounced pronounced all the words. I could not say them properly and everyone started to laugh, but they were laughing at me, which is okay. They can laugh at me. But if you make a joke about a person in the crowd, then everyone might be offended or something like that. So it’s always safe to tell a joke about yourself, but maybe not tell a joke about how someone else looks or something.

Flora Maira (15:51):
Absolutely. It wasn’t like me. I just, maybe I don’t know what to say to correct is the right word, but let me be, make you understand. They were actually not laughing at you, but they were actually very impressed that you are actually training. Yes. So that laugh was like, wow, he’s trying really hard. So it was not laughing at someone that they failed, but he was liking the laugh of finding it. Wow. This is hilarious. He’s trying. And some words

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (16:16):
Would like to learn what he leaves a beautiful language.

Flora Maira (16:19):
Well, if you spend a few more leads, I’m sure you will, because everybody speaks to you in this country. So the more you spend time is really people. You will definitely catch up some swear words. So welcome to stay.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (16:32):
Thank you. Now, at the beginning of this interview, you said something that I really believe is the number one key to being a good transplant. And what you said was that the translator must also be anointed. And I think that is really the most important thing that that is so important that not only is the preacher anointed, but the translator should also be prayed up, should spend time in prayer, should spend time listening to God. And the translator must also be anointed because it is the translator’s words that are actually being heard by the, by the people. And so it’s not just the preacher that God uses. God uses the preacher, but God also uses a translator. So talk to me a little bit about your, your spiritual preparation and how important it is for you to be anointed as a translator.

Flora Maira (17:34):
I think for me, because I have the privilege of being a minister myself and apart from translating, I also do teach, I do preach and speak in corner conferences, et cetera. So I am very well aware when you are going to minister, you have to take them to prepare. And for me, like in this Crusader, I understood the magnitude of the burden that is on my shoulders, that I’m not taking it, that I’m just going there because you know, I’m just a medium of communication for people to understand for me to know, I really took me that I’m coming into ministry, I’m coming to a Butterfield and by God’s grace like some of these crusades I’ve had at least two hours of prayer every morning, I would wake up three o’clock in the morning and would have two hours of pray until about five o’clock in the morning, every morning with the crusades.

Flora Maira (18:24):
So for me, that’s given me that preparation time, I’ll be prepared for praying for, for people to come and pray for this food of God, to be present, to be able to deliver, to save and pray for the weather because they know this is a rain season. So I’ve been praying for all that. They’re grateful for the preacher. And everybody in the team, I took really time to prepare, because I understand this is a spiritual warfare and anywhere where there’s a weakness the devil can come through. So I wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t want to be that person that the devil comes through me to, you know, to cause anything to happen or not to work well. And I understand that everybody’s at war. So he’s looking for anywhere where there’s a chance to distort to the crusade. So it is very, very important. It’s actually my, my goal upon all the, maybe the pastors and the bishops who are supervising judges to make sure that the groom and the, they have moody translators and they’re not, they shouldn’t just pick somebody because they just speak the language, but they should be ministers in themselves.

Flora Maira (19:24):
They should be people who are spiritual. They understand this is a ministry it’s not just about translating from English is why he was waiting to English or to whatever language, you know, but they are, they should be people who have to buy. Then they understand this is a ministry. This is a platform they want to minister just as the preacher. And then they take it serious. They take time to prepare, you know, spirituality to feel they’re part of that ministry. So I think for me, that helped for me to, to, to do what I did. And I thank God for all the feedback that I’ve heard from everybody that you have been absolutely good at to giving me the feedback. And I am very humble. And I appreciate for the, all the feedback that I’ve had about what I did in this crusade.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (20:13):
For more information about how to share your faith or to financially support our worldwide evangelistic outreaches, visit King ministries.com. Again, that’s King ministries.com.


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