SALT LAKE CITY—Members throughout the world will be tuning in by various methods to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Semiannual General Conference this weekend and next to hear inspirational messages from their leaders. Because it is a worldwide church, some of those members don’t speak English. Enter some 700 interpreters.
“There are 95 languages that we do,” said Sead Osmani, interpretation supervisor for the church. “It takes quite a bit of preparation to organize it all. There are 57 languages that we do in Salt Lake and everybody else is in country.”
Osmani said the interpreters in Salt Lake come to the church office building for all the sessions. “During General Conference everybody volunteers,” he said. “Most come from along the Wasatch Front but those who travel here we make all the arrangements for their travel and hotel stay so that they can just worry about interpreting when they come.”
Using special Internet equipment they connect with other countries to handle interpreters from all over the world. “There is about a second of delay only – it’s very high quality,” said Osmani. “It’s all a live event. We receive the talks to be translated in advance so that when they go into the booth (to interpret) they have it ready. The speaker can deviate from the talk though, and about every talk that happens. Maybe he or she wants to add something. The interpreter has to pay attention to stop reading and jump in to do simultaneous interpretation.”
Osmani said that almost every language has “text gain” but each speaker is given a specific time allotment so interpreters have to adjust for that. “Some might want to read faster to keep up but we don’t advise that,” he said. “If they’re reading too fast we’re not sure how much the members listening will get. We prepare and train the interpreters on how to stay with the speaker without reading too fast.”
They train throughout the year but the month before conference they increase the training to every Saturday. Interpreters are selected very carefully, said Osmani.
“It’s a challenge to find the right people,” he said. “It’s not just random, like ‘I served a mission or I speak the language.’ We try to go only with natives from that country. There are some obscure languages that it is hard to find natives so then we go with return missionaries.”
Many people apply to be interpreters Osmani said. “They move to this country and they want to do it because for years they’ve listened to conference,” he said. “We have a lead interpreter who helps us find people. There are many wards with different languages along the Wasatch Front. People come here and want to stay with their culture and language. He helps us recruit from those. Then they have to go through a screening process.”
During conference things can get quite intense for the interpreters. “Some have to wake up in the middle of the night to interpret,” because of the time difference, he said. “Because we’re talking about the Internet for our connection with other countries, it can go down. We have to be on our toes. One year in the middle of the Pacific there was a storm and we weren’t able to connect with Tonga or Samoa. We have a backup team who is ready to take over and finish the talks. We can’t control the Internet so we have to be ready to find a solution so that those words are still going out to the members.”
There’s always something new so Osmani said the work never gets boring. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “One thing I love about the work is meeting these interpreters. They are giving up on many things to help others in their own country hear the messages in their own language. No matter how crazy or difficult it is, in the end you see the hand of the Lord in the work. It’s amazing to say, ‘wow, we did it again.’”
He’s heard several faith promoting stories from interpreters too. “Many of them go back to their country and they’ve told me about wonderful experiences in church,” he said. “They’ll start to speak and suddenly the members will stop and say, ‘you’re President Monson’ because they recognize the voice. They really see how much responsibility they have which gives them the desire to not take it lightly.”
Osmani often sees instances of divine help in the process. “There have been times when we thought the talk was being translated but it doesn’t come back in time,” he said. “After a prayer and a blessing the interpreter goes inside the booth and does amazingly well without the translated talk. You see this is not just any kind of work. The hand of the Lord is in this.”