What of the



From Returned Missionaries





We can do better!

Wade W. Fillmore

We all rejoice that the Spirit can transcend the mistakes of language as we communicate one with another. There are numerous stories about this phenomenon in Church History. Many of us have experienced this. It is a part of the gift of tongues and is for the benefit of Heavenly Father's children. But, I believe we must do all we can do to become better at using interpreters. That is part of our responsibility.

A few years ago, I was asked to write something about the effective use of interpreters. I will share a modified version of what I produced here.

 Some thoughts and ideas for those who use interpreters


Preparation of presentation (or speech):

1)       Consider your audience

a)      How much do they already know?

b)     How long have they been involved in this business?

c)      What other experience do they have?

d)     What is the average level of their education?

e)      Will other people be present?

f)       How does their native language and culture impact their ability to understand your presentation?

g)     What printed materials on your topic are available in their native language?

h)     What other related publications are available in their native language?

i)       How sophisticated is their native language? If available, review the language profile.

j)        Are there local customs to which you should be sensitive?

k)     Read the BYU CultureGram for the country in which you will make your presentation.


2)      Consider your use of (English) language in your presentation.

a)      Are the sentences too long?

b)      How many sentences per 100 words are there in your message.

c)       Can compound sentences be divided in two?

d)      Does the message contain rhetoric that will be difficult for the interpreter to understand?

e)       Does the message include alliteration, metaphor, or rhyme that will not be meaningful when the message is interpreted.

f)        Do the stories being considered include customs, images, ideas, locations, objects, etc. that will be foreign to the audience.


3)       Consider the length of your presentation.

a)      How many minutes are you allocated for the presentation?

b)     How much time should you allow for a consecutive interpreter?

c)      How much time will you have left  for the message?  

d)     How many quotations do you plan to use?

e)      How much time will be consumed if you ask the audience to read quotations from handouts?  

f)       How can you shorten and still present the key ideas?

g)     Plan what you might choose not to say if the time is too short for what you have planned to present?.

h)     Will there be time for questions and answers?

i)       If so, how much time will you allocate for each question and answer?

j)        How much of your presentation will be spontaneous?

k)     Do you have any feelings during preparation about anything for which you should be prepared?

l)       Do you want to learn a short greeting in the native language? 

Practice delivering your presentation.

1)      Time the delivery of your presentation.

2)      If you are to use a consecutive interpreter, you can pause by saying one sentence out loud and then saying the same sentence slowly and silently immediately thereafter to yourself.

3)      You can ask your spouse or some other person to listen to you practice your presentation. They might assume the role of someone of foreign listener.

4)      You can seek comments and suggestions from those who listen to the presentation. 

Meet with the interpreter

1)      If possible, in advance, find out the following about your interpreter.

a)      Native speaker of the foreign language or not

b)     Previous interpreting experience

c)      Ability in English

d)     Experience with this business

2)      Provide the interpreter with a list of quotations you will use in your presentation.

3)      In advance, try to identify parts of your presentation which might be difficult for your interpreter including:

a)      Jargon and slang

b)     Abbreviations

c)      Long words

d)     Difficult words

e)      Words your interpreter may have a difficulty hearing correctly

f)       Long sentences

g)     Idioms, metaphors & allusions to English

4)      Provide list of unusual items you  might use in your presentation.

5)      If during your presentation, the interpreter doesnft understand what you have just said, decide with the interpreter what he or she should do.  

6)      Express your appreciation and confidence in the interpreter.

7)      Request interpreterffs suggestions based on past experience. 


1)      Donft hurry the presentation. Less material, well understood, is better than, more, not understood.

2)      Speak to the audience, not to the interpreter.

3)      Make sure the interpreter is finished before you go on to the next sentence.

4)      Be sensitive to any hesitations on the part of the interpreter. He may be too embarrassed to admit he didnft understand what you said.

5)      Watch the faces of the audience to see if they are understanding the presentation.

6)      Speak at a slow to moderate speed with good diction and pronunciation.  

7)      Be sensitive to the time. End on time even if you have to leave out some of the presentation you planned.    


The interpreter:

1)      likely doesnft know the topic as well as you do.

2)      has fewer opportunities to listen to others speak about this topic than you have.

3)      is not as familiar with the material you are presenting as you are.

4)      has not had time to practice the delivery of the material.

5)      most likely doesnft know English as well as you do. The interpreterfs English  vocabulary may be much less than half of yours.

6)      likely knows the people to whom you are speaking better than you do.


Is the interpreter a:

1)      Native speaker of the foreign language who has learned English.

2)      Native speaker of English who has learned learned foreign language, including foreign students and missionaries.

3)      Native speaker of both the native language and English.

Referring to the three categories of interpreter noted above, Category 3 interpreters have had the opportunity to grow up in two cultures at the same time. An example might be a child of missionary parents who lived in Africa among the natives for 18 years. These individuals are extremely rare and will not be considered in this brief explanation.

Few Category 2 interpreters learn a foreign language well enough to interpret effectively from English into the foreign language. This is because they did not grow up in the culture of the foreign language they learned as adults. Therefore, they donft know the songs of the children, the proverbs of the people, the jokes, the allegories, the metaphors, the vocabulary of everyday life or the subtle nuances of the language. They know English well. Their problem isnft understanding a speakerfs spoken English. It is putting the English into the idiom of the foreign language so the native listeners understand it without struggling. These interpreters may have trouble with pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary in the foreign language. Too often their inability in the language is a distraction from the message.

Most who are considered competent interpreters in the business world are Category 1 interpreters. These native speakers of their home language have studied English as adults. They did not grow up where English was the native language and are thus not familiar with childhood English. They lack vocabulary,  understanding of English structure, idioms, humor, etc. Their biggest challenge as an interpreter is  understanding the meaning of spoken English accurately. For example, if a speaker says, gA hush fell over the assembly,h the interpreter may not understand the words, ghushh and gassemblyh and may not hear the word gfellh correctly. And if he or she understands correctly, he or she may not understand how a ghushh can fall.     

Therefore speakers who utilize the Presentation Preparation Section of this Supplement will be a great help to their interpreters.


1)      If available, a speaker can get copies of their previous presentations which have been translated into foreign languages and use these to help interpreters. They can then from these past presentations things they want to use in a new presentation. They can cut and paste from translations of past presentations to make a new presentation and provide it to the interpreter.

2)      Speakers can have a sample talk with generic phrases and sentences pre-translated. These pre-translated items can be printed in sequence following the English equivalent. Speakers can then indicate in advance to an interpreter which items he or she plans to use and the order in which they will be used. Such phrases might include:

a)      Simple humor

b)     the key points of the presentation

c)      Expressions of gratitude

d)     A simple self introduction

e)      Favorite personal stories

f)       Simple requests

g)     Summaries.

h)     Simple admonitions


Studying a short profile (such as the one below for Japanese) of the language into which your message will be interpreted can be helpful. For example, with Japanese, you will learn that almost all native speakers of Japanese cannot hear the difference between glh and grh sounds in English. Knowing this, you can be sensitive when you speaks word like glaurel,h gloreh and grole.h


Depending on your interest and the frequency you use interpreters, please visit the internet and read about the use of interpreters.


1.                 General: Historically, Japanese is a polysyllabic language a fairly simple structure and sound system that has borrowed much of its vocabulary and writing system from Chinese which is a monosyllabic language with a complex sound system.

2.                 Sound System: Japanese has fairly simple sound system not too much different from Spanish. Almost all sounds needed to pronounce Japanese accurately exist in American English. The opposite is not true for Japanese speaking English. Japanese have a hard time with the following sounds: L, R, both TH sounds, V, F, and all of the short vowels. It is a very difficult task for native Japanese to accurately hear certain English sounds, especially L and R. Speakers should carefully pronounce words containing L and R that might be misunderstood. Words like Laurel which have both L and R sounds, for example, are especially difficult for Japanese to hear correctly and understand and also to say.

3.                 Structure: Japanese sentences indicate the negative at the end rather than the beginning of the sentence. This can cause some interpreting delay when going from Japanese into English.  

1.                 Honorifics: Historically, the people of Japan have been divided into four classes with the most privileged being nobility and language differences for speaking depending on the relationship between those conversing. There are several ways to refer to oneself and to others depending on relationship. This can pose a problem in the Church where we believe all people are brothers and sisters and equally deserving our out respect. It can affect the relationship between interpreter and speaker also. Speakers do not want to appear to think they are superior to those listening.