The buzz pervades the chapel. The whispers assemble to an insistent setting escorting the speaker’s voice over the sound system. The multiple murmurs from all corners of the audience spawn a hum that any outsider would consider disturbing. But we are used to it â€“ our own relentless liturgical sound.
Sometimes a louder, fast whisper:
– Sarah… Sarah! What’s mercy in French?
– Dominique! The Comforter in Spanish?
The whisperers are seated next to and behind members and investigators of all colors and ethnic types. Our ward, in Dutch-speaking Belgium, serves members from thirty-four nations. Six or seven Latin American countries, seven or eight new independent republics with names that only evoke vague images â€“ Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan. Then, markedly visible in their rows, our African sisters and brothers, from Angola to Zimbabwe. Converts from Iran and Israel are seated next to each other, as well as from India and Pakistan. Of course, also our West-European neighbors, British, French, German, Spanish, Italian …
The prime translation goes from Dutch, our local native language, to English, French and Spanish. Then, here and there, others retranslate to fellow citizens and related groups. The whispers diverge into Russian, Polish, African dialects …
With about one hundred fifty people in our Sacrament meeting, here is, in microcosm, the International Church. Here is immense service in action, helping hands and lips, conveying in subdued tones the messages from the pulpit and the lessons given in classrooms. No one who has ever done it, knows what it means to interpret simultaneously for three hours in a row. Each Sunday again.
Homage to those thousands of whisperers in so many parts of the world, in tiny branches and solid wards, who materialize the Spirit of Pentecost â€“ And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs â€“ we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!
However, I wouldn’t be an applied linguist, working on language learning strategies, without adding some advice to our whisperers. If we translate for immigrants, for people likely to stay longer than a few weeks, let’s use those hours, at least partly, to teach them the local language.
One technique is easy. Instead of trying to translate every word from a speaker or teacher, grab an essential sentence, repeat it slowly, translate it, and repeat it again in the native tongue.
- Ik weet dat de kerk hersteld werd in onze tijd.
– I know the church was restored in our time.
– Ik weet dat de kerk hersteld werd in onze tijd.
And, if the listener is willing to, let him or her whisper the sentence back in the native tongue, with your whispering help.
Another technique is to write down, as translation proceeds, a dozen frequent words in a little bilingual list. Develop it into a lexical mini-course. Or compare a verse in the Scriptures in two languages. It’s no problem to miss, meanwhile, a few sentences from the speaker or the teacher.
Perhaps our readers have other hints to add? We serve our foreign newcomers by integrating them in our community. Language is a key to integration.