Spirit, Training Help Translators Capture Meaning
February 2006

“Spirit, Training Help Translators Capture Meaning,” Ensign, Feb. 2006, 76–77

Spirit, Training Help Translators Capture Meaning

The increasing number of languages in which Church materials are available is an indication that the gospel is rolling forth to “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” (D&C 112:1). With the addition of 5 languages, interpreters provided October 2005 general conference in 80 languages. Full translations of the Book of Mormon are available in 77 languages. The Liahona is available in 50 languages.

As Church membership expands into many nations, the Translation Division of the Church keeps busy meeting the worldwide demand for Church meetings to be interpreted and materials to be translated into additional languages. The division does both translation, which is the transformation of written text into another language, and interpretation, which is the delivery of spoken words into another language.

The Role of Interpreters and Translators

The first priority when selecting members of a translation team is to identify individuals who are living lives that allow them to access the Spirit, said Jeffrey C. Bateson, Translation Division director, in an interview with Church magazines. “We feel, first of all, that translation is a spiritual gift, and anyone involved in that work needs access to the Spirit,” he said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 9:9: “You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” That scripture serves as a guide for the Translation Division, Brother Bateson added.

Next in consideration are translation skills. Potential team members are evaluated to see whether they would better fill the role of translator or reviewer. Individuals working for the Translation Division typically know the target language as their primary language and English as their secondary language.

Like translators, interpreters have to be very familiar with both the target language and English. While most interpreters speak the target language as their native tongue, others learned the target language while serving missions and speak English as their native language.

Processing Language Materials

Direction concerning which languages Church materials will be translated into comes from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As of November 2005, the Church had approved 190 languages and is actively working in 104 of them.

The Translation Division operates according to the Worldwide Translation Plan, which consists of phases, or levels, through which Church materials are produced in a given language according to how many members speak that language.

Requests for a language to receive materials under the Worldwide Translation Plan come from Area Presidencies. “They monitor the language needs of the area and make recommendations to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Brother Bateson said.

The translation of Church materials is an extensive process that calls for multiple reviews using several people who are familiar with the target language. One or more may translate while others ensure that the meaning and language usage are appropriate. When scriptures are translated, the review process is even more extensive. The same process of Area Presidency requests and translation approval exists with scripture translation.

“First and foremost, scripture translation is directed by the Lord through the Brethren in the highest levels of the Church,” Brother Bateson said. “It is not something we do, then present to the Brethren. They are in charge of the work.”

Once a scripture translation project is approved, the Translation Division reports regularly to General Authorities for approvals during the process.

For other Church materials in print, the English original is first translated, and then a back-and-forth review by a team of translators and reviewers stationed in Salt Lake City or in other nations continues until the translation is perfected. The target language teams typically work on tight deadlines.

Brother Bateson explains that the process is not merely an exchange of the target language for the English: “Translation is an art, but it is also a very detailed process and requires a lot of skill and ability to make sure that nothing is left behind. There are so many nuances with language. It’s not a matter of just getting all the words transformed—it is making sure you have all the meaning, all the emotions, all the culture, and everything else that affects how we say things.”

In addition to printed materials, many of the Church’s software and Internet programs are also being translated, said Brother Bateson. Such items include help screens, instructions, and forms. Translating for software and Internet sites adds an additional level of complexity to the work of translation, he said.

Technology Aids Interpretation

For some meetings, translated texts are prepared beforehand. But if a speaker departs from the prepared text or does not have a prepared text, an interpreter must provide simultaneous interpretation. Advances in technology allow interpreters to remain in their homelands while actively interpreting a meeting that may be broadcast from Salt Lake City.

“For example, we may have an interpreter in Norway,” Brother Bateson said. “High-speed communication lines allow him or her to interpret a meeting being held in Salt Lake City and have the interpretation transmitted by satellite to Salt Lake City and back to the same building to a congregation in another room simultaneously with the video portion of the meeting with only a one-second delay.”

Typically, teams of several interpreters take turns interpreting talks. Interpreters in Salt Lake City work from booths in the Conference Center, and conference attendees all over the world can listen to the meetings in their native tongue.

The Good News of the Gospel Spreads Forth

Brother Bateson said the Doctrine and Covenants describes the work in which the Translation Division is involved: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ” (D&C 90:11).

“We consider it a privilege and a blessing to play a very important part in helping the gospel reach the various nations, kindreds, tongues, and people,” Brother Bateson said. “We feel that we are instruments in the Lord’s hands in helping to make that happen.”

The effort of preparing the gospel to spread forth in many languages requires much work, along with the companionship of the Spirit.

“The multiplicity of languages and cultures is both an opportunity and a challenge for members of the Church,” stated President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “Having everyone hear the gospel in their own tongue requires great effort and resources. The Spirit, however, is a higher form of communication than language” (“Heirs to the Kingdom of God,” Ensign, May 1995, 63).

Members in Samoa can watch a general conference session in their own language thanks to the efforts of a team of interpreters. (Photograph by Judith Niuelua.)

A team of interpreters work together during October 2005 general conference.

The Book of Mormon has been translated in full into 77 languages.