From the time of the Great Commission until now, Christians have been evangelizing the world through various traditional and modern methods: missionary work, preaching, tracts, music, films, television, crusades, books, street-corner preaching, door knocking, church planting, and now, through the Internet.
While traditional evangelism definitely has its place, there is no better way than the Internet to reach millions of people across the world with the least amount of effort. Many ministries are using Internet-based evangelism by setting up virtual church campuses where members in remote areas without access to a physical church can attend. These virtual churches have opened up the opportunity for millions of people who otherwise may not have been able to hear the Gospel or attend a good local Christian church.
ADDRESSING THE LANGUAGE GAP
When a cyber-church hopes to open its ‘virtual doors” to an international community they should first think of how they will communicate to a non-English-speaking community.
Providing multi-language subtitles is the most efficient and cost-effective method to localizing your webcasts in multiple languages. Subtitles can be combined with just about any player: Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, YouTube, RealPlayer, etc. If you want your message to be understood by a multi-lingual audience, there is no way around localizing your programming for various languages. This article summarizes the main ways to tackle subtitling.
COST AND QUALITY CHOICES
The Automated Translator
The cheapest option to subtitle your English video is automatic translation. Google offers this as a free service for YouTube videos. The main problem, however, is inaccuracy.
Here is an actual example of one such English to Spanish translation:
The original English subtitle: “The history of the Flood is precise. The history from Abraham on is precise. Everything else is precise. There's precision in the Law and the history books. There's precision in the Psalms and the books of literature that we call poetry. And there is precision in the prophets.”
The automated translation: “La historia de la inundación es preciso. La historia de Abraham en es preciso. Todo lo demás es preciso. No hay precisión en la Ley y en los libros de historia. No hay precisión en los Salmos y los libros de la literatura que llamamos poesía. Y no hay precisión en los profetas.”
But there are two serious problems with this translation. First, it doesn’t use the proper term for the Flood. It is like calling the Flood “the inundation” in English. Second, it says that the Bible ISN’T precise in many instances, which exactly the opposite of what the speaker intended.
The main point is that automated translation will often distort, add or subtract from the Word of God, while a good human translator relies on the translations of the Bible into Spanish that have been diligently compared to the original Bible manuscripts. Therefore they do not need to do their own translation of the Bible. Finally, good Christian translators rely on the Lord to give them the proper words, something a computer could never do.
The Volunteer Translator
If you have volunteer translators in your church, this can be an excellent way to go. The translation will be free, but you will most likely have to team up with a subtitling company to create the needed subtitle file. Nevertheless your cost will be significantly lower.
One of the main advantages to using volunteers is that the translator will most likely be familiar with the speaker’s style and message as well as have a heart for what they are translating.
Nevertheless, there are two points to be aware of when dealing with volunteers. First, just because they “know” another language, doesn’t mean they will be able to properly translate into that language in a Christian context. Be sure they are native speakers of the target language, as well as having attended Christian church or listened to Christian teaching in their native language. Also, as with all volunteers, you must be sure they can meet your production deadline week after week. Be sure to have a back-up plan.
The Non-Christian/Amateur Translator
If you search for the cheapest subtitling package cost, you may end up with a “non-Christian” or “amateur” translation. With a non-Christian translator or inexperienced translator you may find a cheaper rate, but you will run into problems similar to what you find with automatic translation. The terminology used is often of secular nature, or worse yet, that of another religion when referring to Christian matters. For example, in Japan, where less than one percent are reported Christians, it is very difficult to find a Japanese-speaker able to properly translate the word “atonement,” as this concept does not exist in Japan’s main religions, Buddhism and Shinto.
Another example that had me chuckling for hours was in an interpreted church service from English to Spanish when the interpreter referred to the Holy Ghost as the “Fantasma Sagrado,” instead of the correct Spanish term, “Espíritu Santo.” For a Spanish-speaker this is like calling the Holy Ghost something similar to the Sacred Phantom. It doesn’t quite work.
The Experienced Christian Translator
Of course, this is the best option, but not always the most affordable. The experienced Christian translator is a Christian with a heart for the message and also with the training and tools to localize your message properly to the target audience. When searching for a full-package subtitling service, be sure to ask the company about the translators they use. Do they have experience translating Christian material? How many years of experience do they have? What other Christian material have they translated? Ask to see their resumes. In addition to a good Christian translator, if you are willing to pay top dollar, also be sure there is an additional proof of the translation before the subtitles go live, so that any errors are caught. If you have people available in your ministry to do a proof of the final translations, this option can bring your cost down significantly.
THE BOTTOM LINE
All and all, when translating your message for multi-language subtitles, be sure to allow feedback on the translation from the viewers. This can be a simple box below the video where the viewer can input their feedback. You never know, you may even get viewers across the world willing to translate your message for free. Are you getting the number of viewers you desired in each country? If not, it may be that the subtitles are so poor that the viewer gives up.
Although there are many service options out there at many different costs, the important thing is that you know exactly what you are getting and you evaluate what will work best for your ministry. From years of experience, the old saying still rings true: You get what you pay for.