Taking a behind-the-scenes look at General Conference translations

Translators interpret for General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The conference is held twice a year for members of the Church. (Emile Khoury)

LDS families across the world gather together during this time of year to refocus and hear a prophet speak, while hundreds of translators and church staff frantically prepare for the 185th Annual General Conference.

General conference will be translated into 67 different languages — a more diverse variety than Google Translate. The LDS church’s cultural and linguistic diversity enables it to take on such an effort. Foreign members and returned missionaries alike congregate to Utah to volunteer their translation services during the conference season.

Jordanian Church member Emile Khoury has translated for the Church for more than 10 years. The First Presidency also asked for his help in translating “Preach My Gospel,” a missionary manual, into Arabic while he was serving his mission in London, England. Khoury said being able to translate the written talks prior to the live-broadcast is a privilege, as he gets to see the modifications the speakers make, helping him hone in on the most important details.

“It’s a very spiritual experience,” he said. “The translating booth is a special place where I get to go for a couple days every year and work with the people of Christ as proxies for our leaders and the prophet. It’s wonderful.”

Members of the translation teams meet before each session to review assignments, receive updates and join in prayer. They then divide into their respective interpretation booths. All of the translations booths have a desk, a monitor displaying the Conference Center and a panel with audio controls and headsets where workers record their translations.

Workers typically work in groups of four — one worker translates; another sits on the side in case of an interruption or to take over translating if needed; the other two translators sit outside the room, viewing the process through a glass panel, until it’s their turn to translate.

All the conference talks are pre-translated before the sessions, but voiceover translating is still not an easy task. Fijian translator Aisake Vuikadavu faces difficulties keeping his translations synthesized, capturing punch lines and staying concise in the often wordy Fijian language without losing the intended message.

“Some of the speakers speak really fast, so keeping up with them without sounding like I’m running is definitely a challenge,” Vuikadavu said. “Also, some of the speakers with deep doctrinal messages and phrases are always a major challenge. I remember translating for the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell numerous times. There were times where I really forgot to breathe while I was translating his talks.”

A number of the volunteer translators work as paid professional interpreters, but many contributors are novices or non-native speakers. First-time translator Alynne Hendricks had her first try last weekend at her first training session to orally translate the conference into Serbian. Hendricks learned Serbian as a missionary and was notably known among her former missionary companions as one of the stronger missionary speakers in her mission.

“I’m nervous and excited. It’s a huge responsibility, because we will be there speaking and translating for Apostles of the Lord,” Hendricks said. “I know these translations mean so much to the people who hear them, and all I can do is prepare as much as possible with the Spirit and then turn it over to the Lord to do more than I can myself.”

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