This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Over the past 3 years or so I have relied on people to translate/interpret for me on an almost daily basis. Although my grasp of Albanian is much improved from what it was originally I still need help sometimes. Most of the time it’s Ilir who does this, but not always, and I’ve noticed something… translators/interpreters hardly ever get thanked for what they do.

Of course, if you’re paying for the services of a translator/interpreter then this is not such a problem, but I’m talking just about people who translate/interpret voluntarily in church or for mission teams etc. I’m going to use “translator” as a general term here to mean both spoken and written translation. So here are my 5 reasons why you should always thank your translator.

  1. They have studied the language/languages. Not everyone has a gift for languages but even for those that do there has been some effort involved in learning not only the basic structure but also the intricate details of another language. Of course no one would expect you to learn another language for a 1 week trip, but your translator has put a lot of time, effort and probably money into learning your language.
  2. They have taken time to understand your culture. Part of translating is understanding not only the semantics of the language you’re translating into but also the culture that that language comes from. Some things just don’t translate word-for-word and a good translator can find an equivalent phrase or put something in context for the person/s they’re translating for.
  3. It’s hard work. You’ve heard preachers or worship teams talk about how drained they feel after a Sunday service, well the translator feels the same way. They have to stay focussed and probably stay standing throughout the service. They can’t switch off for a moment or nip to the loo.
  4. They’re doing it to help you. How would you feel if you went to church on Sunday and didn’t understand a single word that was sung, prayed or spoken? Most likely you’d think it was a complete and utter waste of your time. The person who translates for you is doing it so that you feel included and have the opportunity to contribute.
  5. It’s a sacrifice. Imagine you’re hanging out with friends and you never get to join in the conversation. You’re constantly being badgered by people who desperately want to communicate with each other but don’t speak the same language. You’re stuck in the middle because you’re the only one who can speak both languages, you’re speaking for everyone except yourself.

I have never once heard Ilir or anyone else complain about translating for someone, but does that mean that they don’t deserve thanks for what they do? I believe that translation is a privilege, not an entitlement and that those who do it deserve our thanks and respect. Of course this is my own personal opinion and I’m sure there are many other views on this subject.

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