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Breaking the Language Barrier​—A Look Behind the Scenes

Breaking the Language Barrier​—A Look Behind the Scenes

“It is sometimes said that there is no task more complex than translation.”​—“The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.”

BEFORE translation can begin, publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses are carefully planned, researched, and written. During this process, the Writing Department at their world headquarters in New York thoroughly checks all text for factual accuracy and correct, up-to-date language usage. *

The Writing Department then sends the text to hundreds of translation teams worldwide​—most of whom live and work where the language into which they translate material is spoken. The majority of them translate into their mother tongue. They must thoroughly comprehend the original material as well as the target language.

How do translators typically carry out their work?

Geraint, a translator based in Britain, explains: “I work with a team of translators, so good cooperation is the key. Together we explore solutions to tough translation problems. As we do, we consider not just words but groups of words. We weigh their real meaning and intent, constantly reminding ourselves of the target audience for each article.”

What is your goal as a translator?

“Our goal is for the reader to feel as if the material were originally written in his mother tongue. It should not read as a translation. To that end, we try to use language that is natural. In that way, we will hold the reader’s attention, and he will keep on reading as if he were eating delicious food that is easy on the palate.”

What advantages are there in living where the language is spoken?

“Mingling with the local people is a rich resource. We hear the language spoken every day. Plus, we can field-test terms and expressions to find out if they are natural, understandable, and appealing. This helps us to convey the real meaning of the original text.”

How is your work organized?

“A team is assigned to each project. First, each member of the team reads the original to get the feel of the material and to discern its basic structure and the target audience. We ask ourselves: ‘Where is the article headed? What is its theme and purpose? What do I expect to learn from it?’ This step gets our imagination going.

“Next, the team members share their thoughts, learning from one another. Are we sure we understand the material? How can we convey the same style as the original? Our aim is to elicit the same reaction in readers of the translation as the original writer intended for his audience to experience.”

How do team members collaborate?

“Our aim is for readers to understand the text the very first time they read it. To that end, we read each translated paragraph aloud several times.

“The translator types a paragraph in the target language, which we can see on our computer screens. We check that no ideas have been omitted or added. We also look for naturalness, proper spelling, and correct grammar. Then someone reads that paragraph out loud. If he or she stumbles when reading, we ask why. Once the whole article has been translated, one team member reads it aloud while the others make notes, highlighting problems that might need to be fixed.”

That sounds like intense work!

“It is! And by the end of the day, we are tired. So we look at the material again in the morning when we’re fresh. Some weeks later, the Writing Department sends us final adjustments to the original text. Then we reread our work with fresh eyes and ears and refine it.”

What computer tools do you use?

“Computers still cannot replace human translators. But Jehovah’s Witnesses have developed translation tools that help to streamline our work. One tool is a type of dictionary in which we accumulate commonly used terms and phrases. Another tool enables us to research everything that has already been translated by our team and see previous creative solutions to our translation challenges.”

How do you feel about your work?

“We view our work as a gift to the public. And we want to package that gift nicely. We are thrilled by the possibility of a magazine article or a webpage item touching the heart of a reader and affecting his life for the better.”

Benefits That Last a Lifetime

Around the earth, hundreds of millions benefit from reading publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their own language. The practical wisdom found in their literature and videos, as well as on their website,, is based on the Bible. After all, in that sacred book, God, whose name is Jehovah, tells us that he wants his message to be shared with people of “every nation and tribe and tongue.”​—Revelation 14:6. *

^ par. 4 The original text is prepared in English.

^ par. 25 Visit to sample written, audio, and video publications in your own language and in hundreds of other languages.