This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Just exactly how do you explain the Jimmer phenomenon in the Southeast Asian language of Hmong?
That might be a challenge for Brad Lindsay, an interpreter and manager of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Translation Division. It's his job to interpret next weekend's conference talks for Hmong church members who know little or nothing about basketball or Brigham Young University's star player.
"I'll bet we'll hear some mentions of Jimmer," quipped Lindsay, who is one of 800 interpreters who instantly changes the English talks into different languages for the LDS Church's General Conference.
For 50 years, the LDS Church has been interpreting conference talks into different languages, ever since the first foreign LDS stake center was created in Holland in 1961, said Jeffrey C. Bateson, director of the LDS Translation Division.
Today, conference is interpreted mostly live in 92 different languages from Apache to Yoruba, including American Sign Language. The conference addresses are also captioned for the hard of hearing.
What listeners don't see is the vast amount of work and technology used to ensure these LDS messages are accurately interpreted for the millions of church members worldwide who don't speak English.
For one, Lindsay explains, it's difficult to convey uniquely American cultural references to many foreigners. For example, Lindsay's team of interpreters have had to explain American football when it has been used as a metaphor in a General Conference talk.
"Hmong people [who originate from southern China, Laos and Thailand] don't play football," he said. "But if we can't talk about first downs and third-down conversions, we can still try to convey the meaning of it."
That "meaning" Lindsay is referring to is the spiritual message from church leaders aimed at enlightening and moving members from around the globe. It requires a lot of advanced preparation by the interpreters before the talks start to makes sure they accurately translate the words.
While the text of the talks are given to the interpreters ahead of time, they still have to figure out how to interpret some English words that don't have an equivalent in a foreign language. And sometimes the speaker will go off page and make an unannounced ad lib.
"It's a very complex job to hear one language and spit out another," Lindsay said. "This is the one shot you get, so you've really got to make it happen."
At the downtown Salt Lake City LDS Conference Center, 58 of the languages are interpreted in booths behind the center's main auditorium where the talks are held. Two teams of two each operate a booth with headsets and listen to the talks while interpreting them in a different language.
That audio is then merged with the video and both are sent around the world by satellite. In some cases, for languages such as Amharic, Igbo or Swahili, the interpretation is recorded on DVD along with the video, and the discs are mailed to other countries as early as a week after conference.
Thanks to Internet technology, 29 of the 92 languages are actually interpreted in other countries, such as France, Germany and Tonga, where native-speaking interpreters are stationed.
Using a remote telecommunications system called Tieline, the audio is transmitted from Salt Lake City to another country where it's interpreted by a native-speaking interpreter. That newly-translated audio is then instantly sent back over Internet lines to Salt Lake City, where it's mixed with the video of the talk and then beamed to countries via satellite.
"The first group of interpreting was face to face," Bateson said. "Now we do it via satellite, with the message going back and forth over the ocean in seconds. It is one of the best and current ways for non-English-speaking members to hear the word of the Lord."