When a group of new stake presidents from outside the United States attended the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1961, they were able to hear words directly from the prophet and other general authorities in their own language–Dutch, German, Samoan or Spanish—for the first time.
Now, fifty years later, a worldwide audience will hear inspired messages in their own language during the October General Conference. Thanks to technology and efforts of LDS Church employees in the Translation Division and a huge volunteer force, at least one session of the two-day event will be available in 93 languages to more than 98 percent of church members. In contrast, the United Nations interprets to dignitaries in six official languages.
Even with a highly trained volunteer force and impeccable technology, interpreting sacred words becomes a matter of relying on the spirit of the Holy Ghost, according to Brad Lindsay, manager of Interpretation Services for the Church who was interviewed for a Newsroom article at lds.org.
“It’s one thing to listen, feel the Spirit, absorb a speaker’s message, and try to figure out what it means for you personally,” he said. “But to turn around and put that message into a different language and try to convey what the speaker wants to convey—that’s a monumental task.
The Lord loves his children regardless of the language they speak or where they are located. Our responsibility is to utilize the gifts of the Spirit in relaying the message of living prophets to the entire world. That involves a oneness with the speaker and with the Spirit, or the message won’t be conveyed properly. And where we may fall short in interpretation, we have the assurance that the Spirit will fill in and bridge the gap.”
Brother Lindsay further explained in an article in the Daily Herald.
“It’s tough because often they don’t know where the speaker is heading and even need to anticipate what will come next,” Lindsay said. “They must be totally in tune with what the speaker is saying. We train all year, but there is only so much that you can teach. Interpreting is almost an inborn talent. Sure you can learn and improve, but I think most people have a natural talent, ability or gift.”
In the Herald article, Anna Dong, who is a Cantonese interpretation coordinator for the LDS Church, verified what Lindsay said.
“We are lucky to sometimes get prepared comments ahead of time, but sometimes the speakers will just go by the Spirit, and we don’t want to shortchange the audience.
So many times our mouths are able to speak things that at the end of the talk surprise us. I don’t know of anywhere else in translation where this happens.
I remember when Elder [David B.] Haight’s eyesight was going bad and there were no prepared notes. As the apostle spoke, my partner was able to interpret simultaneously. At the end, we just looked at each other and bawled. We knew that it was more than just us in that booth.”
Jeff Bateson, director of the Translation Division said that the sacrifice of the volunteers, including native speakers and returned missionaries, is tremendous. Besides donating time on conference weekend, they also commit to training sessions and many translate for other LDS Church events.
During conference, about 800 volunteers help interpret, with about 500 working from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. The remaining 300 volunteers work in various locations throughout the world.
Language teams of four rotate turns to interpret in one of the 58 soundproof booths with state-of-the-art technology. Wearing headsets, they watch a video feed of each session, speaking their interpretation into a microphone which is then mixed with video and transmitted. Since there are more languages than soundproof booths, not every session is available in every language.
Forty-three languages are interpreted remotely from locations around the world. In a few areas where there is a small congregation, a person will interpret directly for the saints gathered in their meetinghouse. In other cases, the commercial technology, Tieline allows the remote interpretation to be sent back to Salt Lake City and then redistributed worldwide within seconds.
Being able to discern the Spirit is so vital to interpreting that there is as much emphasis on spiritual training as technical training.
“We have had instances of interpreters coming out of the booth with tears rolling down their cheeks because they have felt the Spirit and know that the Spirit has worked through them to help convey the message of a prophet of God,” Brother Bateson said. “We work many, many hours during general conference weekend, and that’s the rewarding part of it.”
David Selck, a student at Brigham Young University, began volunteering as an interpreter in 2008. He said volunteering gives him an opportunity to serve the Romanian people he grew to love on his mission and provides a meaningful way to experience conference.
“You’re not just hearing the talk. In a way, you’re also giving it,” Brother Selck said. “None of the words are yours, of course, but you are trying to convey the emotion and the meaning the speaker intended, not just understand the syntactical definition of what is said. The Spirit is definitely involved with that.”
Brother Lindsay said that work for the next conference begins as early as six months in advance—right after the previous conference is concluded. The interpretive work is a fulfillment of the counsel and comfort in Doctrine and Covenants 90:11:
“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.”
“We take that very literally,” Brother Lindsay said. “People are hearing it in many different ways—through interpreted word, translated word, or signed word—but it’s latter-day prophecy happening now. Interpretation isn’t a new thing, but we’re in a period of time where it’s exploding.
“I know that the Lord wants us to get the word out to all of His children,” he continued. “When I meet people in remote locations who are new to the gospel and are learning gospel principles sometimes for the first time, I find that they want it, they’re hungry for it, they desire it. What we do here–to help them answer that desire and help them hear what prophets are saying in these, the latter days–is a wonderful blessing. This is the Lord’s work. He’s in the details. He loves His children and wants them to know what He is saying.”
Article was written by Jan Mayer