Translators connect young people at global event

Translators (from left) Katherine Jolly, Maria Sonnleithner and Deborah Detka work together in the German translation booth at the Global Young People’s Convocation in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UMNS.
Translators (from left) Katherine Jolly, Maria Sonnleithner and Deborah Detka work together in the German translation booth at the Global Young People’s Convocation in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UMNS.

When over 300 people from dozens of countries gather in conversation, it is inevitable that different languages are spoken. That means translators are crucial to enable participants to understand each other and engage in meaningful discussion.

At the Global Young People’s Convocation, youths and young adults from 40 countries converged to discuss various issues relating to the church, sharing their perspectives in several international languages — English, French, Russian, Portuguese and German. 

Maria Sonnleithner, 25, who speaks three languages including Swedish, was in charge of the translation process.

“We had two people translating for each of the languages used at GYPC, then recruited three off-site translators who operated in their different time zones across the world,” she said.

“We requested the off-site translators be available during certain times, and during the legislative forum, I would send the various proposals to these translators who would translate and return to me. I then forwarded the translation to the team at GYPC to look through and approve the language before they were screened and read to the delegates. This process happened within 12 hours,” she said.

“As a translator you need to know context and appropriate language to be used. In getting translators for this event, we asked people to recommend translators they knew and trusted. It is one thing to hire professionals, but they do not necessarily know church structures, our acronyms and church speak.

“Translation is also about trusting someone to do a good job. It is important that their personal values do not color the translation,” Sonnleithner said.

She said she also got invaluable assistance from six Global Mission Fellows during the small group sessions, which were organized by language.

During the five days of conversation, Sonnleithner said she ran and shouted a lot.

“I am the person who ran around after speakers telling them what we needed before they went on stage. My main challenge was getting people to understand we didn’t have many translators and they were working 15 hours a day.

“As a translator, there were times when I realized speakers were going too fast and translation was getting left behind, I would shout across the room for the speaker to slow down or speak up in order to assist my team,” she said.

Deborah Detka was one of the German translators at the convocation. “Being a translator is hard work and a lot of fun. You get up early in the morning, start looking through the first session that is going to come, grab some food and start translating,” she said.

“The moment you are starting, you know you are not gonna stop until the last word of the day has been spoken. We had one person translating while the other prepared for the next session.  Sometimes we were lucky and the participants gave us their notes in advance, but usually we spent all our breaks translating the last-minute bits and pieces of information we received.

“I am amazed at how patiently people tried to speak slowly and how much love and care about each other was present at GYPC2018,” Detka said.

Lose Nusi of the Western Jurisdiction appreciated the work done by the translation team: “The translation was wonderful, through all the difficulties, we were able to hear the thoughts of each person,” she said.

Caleb Mbaz from the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the French translators. He has experience translating at major events, including General Conference.  

"The translation process was good. It was a good experience, although French is diverse and differs with countries,” he said.

“Translation is very sensitive. You have to make sure that you are accurate because you are not only translating for the French speakers, but other delegates who will react to your statement, especially where topical matters are being discussed.”

Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

 

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