Lost in Translation

translation books

I married a Gringo.  My Cuban grandmother speaks not a word of English, and my husband only knows how to say “cheese” and “hello” in Spanish.  This means I spend a lot of time translating.  This weekend, I tried to tell my abuela a story about a nightmare my husband had experienced.  In the dream, my sweet husband decides to go to a nail salon to purchase a manicure for me, but the Asian lady at the front desk misunderstands him and begins to do his nails.  He tries over and over again to tell her he does not want a manicure, but she keeps saying to him, “You, be still.  I do a good job.”  Thankfully, he woke up before he had to choose a nail color.

Describing my husband’s crazy nocturnal images to an elderly female Cuban proved to be a bit difficult for me.  For starters, I had no idea how to say “nightmare” or “manicure” in Spanish.   I decided to just translate it as “bad dream,” but my grandfather corrected me and told me the actual word was “pesadilla.”  I had never used that word before, and it was totally unfamiliar to me.

The problem I face sometimes is that some phrases are just not “translatable.”  No matter what words I choose, my abuela will never understand the punchline of my husband’s jokes, and some “Cuban sayings” seem pretty absurd if I translate them literally into English.   You can’t translate cultural understanding.

Have you ever had a similar experience?  Have you tried to communicate a concept to someone who just doesn’t seem to speak the same language you do?  I struggle the same way when I try to share my faith sometimes.  Jesus has taught me a language of love and peace — His forgiveness is such a beautiful gift.  Yet, I find myself struggling with how to translate Him to those who don’t understand or know.

This week, I realized that Jesus knew His disciples would feel inadequate for the task of communicating the Gospel.  In Luke 12, Christ tells them not to worry though:

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you

in that very hour what you ought to say” (v.12, ESV).

I am so thankful that God uses tongue-tied, vocabulary-hindered me to share His story.  He will give me the right words — words of life.

Q4U:  Do you struggle with finding the right words to communicate the Good News to those who don’t “speak Christian”?

My one-word focus for the year is “fruitilicious.”  Find out what that meanhere.

Thanks for stopping by!  I would love to connect with you on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.

Joining like-minded sisters today at Faith-Filled Friday, Thought-Provoking Thursday, Tell His Story, Playdates with God, Hear it on Sunday: Use it on Monday, and Soli Deo Gloria.

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28 responses

  1. Yes, I’ve struggled with communicating with those who don’t know or want to know Christ. I just keep reminding myself that we’re called to plant seeds, and someone else may see the harvest! Nice to “meet” you — I’m your neighbor at Playdates today!

    • Nice to meet you as well, Laura. I am so thankful for that promise that His word never is void –it always accomplishes His intended purpose when we share. That comforts me and gives me confidence.

  2. Sometimes, my faith truly does feel like a foreign language, Lyli. I am also grateful that we have been given the Holy Spirit to give us just those right words, and sometimes, not even words but actions and being the image of Christ in their lives. I think He translates Himself the best for me. Caring through Christ, ~ l

  3. Hi, Lyli. Great post. I can totally relate. There are many forms of communicating, and often losing the message because of so many differences and challenges involved. I wrote last week about trying to share my feelings about something, which I felt wasn’t being interpreted correctly. It frustrated me, at first. But I was reminded that the Lord always understands our hearts and we always just need to seek Him to make things clear for us. You can read that post here: http://christintheclouds.blogspot.com/2013/04/when-you-finally-feel-understood.html
    In His Love, Ann @ Christ in the Clouds

    • My Cubans are full of stories, Laura. Just this weekend, my mom shared with my husband how she was only allowed to take 5 sets of clothes with her when she left the country to freedom in the States. Unbelievable! I take my freedom for granted. — That verse from Luke fills me with such peace. I need not worry as the Spirit goes before me.

    • Agreed. I learned early on in my teaching career to stay away from big words. I remember ranting on about something for a few minutes to my class of 11th graders, and then at the end a student raised his hand and asked me what “facetious” meant. I realized I had lost him after the 2nd sentence…

  4. I loved your story. I struggle with sharing my faith with others but I think it’s primarily because I tend to label myself as a new believer still and I’m afraid I will mis-communicate. Thank you for the reminder to trust that He will give me the right words. Blessings to you.

  5. It’s so true, “You can’t translate cultural understanding.” And the Christian life is a culture separate from the world. They. Just. Do. Not. Get. Us. But thankfully, the Holy Spirit can cross all barriers. We just need to ask to be led by the Spirit when encountering those that do no comprehend “Christianese.”

    Great article, Lyli!

  6. GREAT story, Lyli. That verse at the end? I have it framed. It sits by my office computer, a constant remind that I need to rely on the Spirit for every word, spoken or written.

  7. Fortunately there is one universal language we all speak; the language of love!! I am a South African and my home language is Afrikaans. I have found that even my English and Xhosa countrymen cannot understand the jokes I tell in Afrikaans!
    Blessings
    Mia

  8. Today I’m struggling with the right words to say to my husband. He doesn’t like my hair cut, and won’t let it go. I’m so frustrated that I’m having a hard time holding my tongue. Like Job, I guess I just need to put my hand over my mouth!

    • Oh, Esther! Your comment made me smile. I have “been there” — yes, I have. I remember running to the mirror to see if my hair did indeed look as horrifying as my husband seemed to say…. I guess he wasn’t used to the lighter highlights the hair dresser chose that day.

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