The Barrier to Entry for Mormon Translators

Last year around this same time, the Church announced that it would pay its part-time Church interpreters for General Conference. In the past, if you had skills with a particular language, generally you could work with the Church in the interpretation department in one of three ways:

1) You could receive a calling.
2) You could become a part-time missionary.
3) You could become a part-time / on-call employee.

If you decided on option #3, you still would not be paid for General Conference. You would be paid, however, for all other Church functions needing interpretation / translation (symposiums, Relief Society meetings, CES firesides, etc.). But now the Church pays their part-time / on-call employees even for General Conference.

I used to work as an interpreter for the Church, and my wife Evelina still does. Although Eve enjoys it quite a bit, she can be easily frustrated by one particular aspect: for most countries, all General Conference talks are translated within the country and later shipped (or emailed, faxed, etc.) to Utah. Interpreters receive these translated versions only days before the actual conference. Eve is usually up all night the night before revising these talks, as the translators live outside of the United States (or an equivalent environment where English is spoken) causing (one assumes this is the main cause) some passages to be translated incorrectly.

Interestingly enough, though she has clearance and is “allowed” to make these revisions, when she asked if she could receive the talks directly and translate them in advance, the answer was no. The speculation is that the Church wants to protect those members it employs overseas.

So the question is will the Church change this policy like it has changed other translation policies? Should it? Discuss.


  1. Pertaining to Church employment in general:

    I am sitting at my desk in the COB (Church Office Building) presently organizing a few last minute things and packing up the rest. It is my last day here at the COB, and I will tell you why.

    In order to get changes made within church employment, there are several people you have to go through, and if you are lucky, you get to those who have the power to make the real decisions: the General Authority leaders over that department. As we all know, the apostles are busy men and some of these several people that you have convince that we need change don’t want to bug the GA’s if it’s not necessary.

    My position is staying as a temporary one (meaning I have worked as long as legally possible without benefits) even though there is great cause to make it fulltime. But somewhere in the series of directors that make the ladder up to Elder Nelson’s and Eyring’s offices doesnt want to petition for a new fulltime employee slot.

    This I can understand, the church is made up of people that have different characteristics and opinions. Plus, it’s tithing money we are dealing with, plus some are just plum intimidated by the GA’s. Understandable.

    Eve’s petition seems perfectly sound to me, but some people are just stubborn,or otherwise preoccupied and these issues take a long time to get to the men upstairs (actually, I sit some 20 floors above the GA’s, so that doesnt really apply)if they are notified at all. Even then, it takes a good long time for things to change.

    One thing I have learned up here on the 22nd floor, the church functions like a well-oiled machine. My question is, how fast does a well oiled machine have to work?

  2. I’m not following why conference talks need to be shipped TO Utah, nor why there are two levels of translators.


  3. Sorry to be a bit difficult, here (well, only a little sorry ;)), but what, exactly, is the ‘barrier to entry’ you’re talking about, Bob?

  4. Bob Caswell says:

    The barrier to entry would be the need to be not only a native of a country but also a native of a country still living within that country in order to translate for the Church.

  5. Oh, I see. Eve’s an interpretter now, but she’s prevented from being an actual translator. That is interesting. I’m curious — does that same limitation apply even to certain other members of your family, like, say, your mother?

  6. Bob Caswell says:

    Ben S.,

    You’re not following it because it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the way it’s always been done (at least in Bulgaria and most of Eastern Europe, from what I understand). Originally it was a nice opportunity for the Church to provide employment for members within countries that – generally speaking – were in difficult times. Obviously it’s extremely inefficient; but as Sarah pointed out, the Church is slow to change in these matters.

  7. Bob Caswell says:

    Thank you, Logan, for clarifying the point that most don’t seem to recognize: There is a difference between interpreters and translators. As for my mother, I believe that same limitation applies now even though I don’t think it applied in the past, as she pioneered the translation process for Bulgaria (plus, call me cynical, but limitations seem to spring up the same time compensation gets involved, back then there was no compensation for what she did, whereas now that there potentially could be, limitations and stipulations pop up, coincidence? who knows).

  8. Yes, well, we can’t let people go around getting paid and getting “blessings”, can we? It just wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us.

  9. Bob Caswell says:

    LOL! Heaven forbid. Life would be too easy that way [for others]; yes, you’re right, this all makes sense if you look at the for-your-own-good aspect that we as good Mormons must inflict on others.

  10. I feel quite dense. Is the following correct?

    General Authority A writes his talk. He mails it to Bulgaria where it is translated into Bulgarian by a local, who then mails it back to SLC, where the Bulgarian translation is checked by a second person, who then reads/translates while General Authority A reads it during the conference itself.

    If that’s right, it does seem a little strange…

  11. Bob Caswell says:

    Ben S.,

    You’ve got it, except that the GA probably hands his talk to a secretary and has no idea about what happens afterward. And when my wife said, “Hey, I have a better idea.” They said no.

  12. And here all this time I thought they did simultaneous translation like they do at the United Nations. It sounds like they’ve made the interpreter into a glorified reader, who only has to be alert to occasional deviations from the text. Or maybe they’re supposed to stick to the given translation regardless?

    Which brings up the question: When was the last time there was anything spontaneous other than little jokes or asides at General Conference?

    I wonder how many translators get the alliteration into Elder Maxwell’s talks, or the rhymes in President Monson’s? Are they allowed to replace all those phrases in passive voice?

  13. a random John says:

    First off, I fail to see what the concern is. It seems like a reasonable way of doing things. A local is probably going to translate well into language that can be understood by locals. If they missed something that was clear in the original language the person who will read it can make some edits. Seems like the best of both worlds.

    Of course the steps listed above by Ben assume that GAs write their own talks. Bob if your wife is so anxious to be involved AND be paid she should apply as a speechwriter. Rather than choose the words that will be used in Bulgarian she could choose the words that would be translated into Bulgarian and get paid for it.

  14. Bob Caswell says:

    “I wonder how many translators get the alliteration into Elder Maxwell’s talks, or the rhymes in President Monson’s?”

    None [for Bulgarian].

    “A local is probably going to translate well into language that can be understood by locals.”

    You’re wrong. This is precisely the problem; locals translate too literally, focusing on conveying the exact message with no deviation, which is extremely difficult to comprehend.

    “Bob if your wife is so anxious to be involved AND be paid…”

    You missed the point here. Even if she were NOT paid, she could not be involved with the actual translation unless she was living in Bulgaria.

  15. Bob Caswell says:

    I should clarify that when I say “exact message”, I mean exact word, phrase, and/or sentence.

  16. Perhaps part of the reason is to ensure that the work of the translator and interpreter is double-checked, so to speak. What kind of quality control goes on for these talks? I can imagine some interesting heresies creeping into the church due to minor interpretation errors. Translations are a bit easier to audit, as it’s easier to edit and correct written copy than it is to recall spoken words.

    Another question: who writes the version that gets published in the Ensign/Liahona? Is it the translator’s original copy? or a transcript of the interpreter’s performance? or neither?

    Finally, I have some small experience as an interpeter for firesides at the MTC. Doing simultaneous interpretation of Pres. Monson is a nightmare.

  17. ron hall says:

    Listening to Bro Monson is no picnic either, so I feel for you Bryce.

  18. a random John says:

    My speechwriter comment above seems to be ignored. I will annoyingly bring it up again. The church has professional speechwriters that are paid to write talks for GAs. Bob surely this would be work that your wife would be intrigued by, isn’t it?

  19. Bob Caswell says:


    To answer your questions, quality control is a positive side effect, I suppose. Although that is supposed to happen BEFORE it gets to my wife, as she is one person who most of the time is the only person to really see those talks (in Bulgarian in the U.S.), which she will interpret and the translation team is a group of people. So it seems that the translators in Bulgaria have developed some form of a “group think” mentality, as their material consistently needs to be edited even if it supposedly had already been edited.

    As far as the Liahona version… Again, only those in Bulgaria are “allowed” to work on that (but I’m not sure if they re-edit or go with the version they shipped to SLC). So my wife’s revision work is not used.

    a random John,

    My wife might be intrigued by that… But writing talks for GAs? I imagine that has even more barriers to entry than her current dilemma!

  20. a random John says:


    I know for a fact that you can live in Utah and do it. I have no idea if there are any qualms about hiring women for the job.

  21. speech writers for GAs!?! random John, do you have a friend with that job description? Is it full-time or does he/she works as a general assistant as well? Do they write the speeches for firesides as well as General Conference? Then the correlation committee reviews them before they’re delivered?

    Sheesh, I always thought that Gen Conf talks were the words of the prophets.

  22. Bob Caswell says:


    It does make you wonder, doesn’t it…

  23. a random John says:


    My brother had a friend in high school whose father was a church employeed speechwriter. I went to this friend’s missionary farewell (in Bountiful, UT) with my wife and other family members. My wife didn’t know about the father’s employment. After the sacrament meeting my wife immediately remarked that the father’s talk sounded just like a conference talk. We all laughed and explained why. I do not know any of the details of the process, but I believe it is his full time job.

  24. I’m not sure what this site is, but I’m looking for advice from Interpreters. I can’t use my hands very well anymore, and I’m wondering if interpreting would be a viable job. I don’t think I could do translations, and I’m learning Spanish as a second language at the University. (as opposed to being bilingual.) Would I be employable? Any suggestions?

  25. First, the primary reason to send things to the local area for translation service is to prevent any accusation that the Church is avoiding that. How many times have you read directions to some Japanese or Chinese appliance and had to ask just what the heck they were trying to tell you? The use of local translators means that if there IS an error, it can be shown to have occured at the local level, out of the direct hands of the Church in SLC. This can be an important point in some countries where the Church is only there “by approval.” In addition, it helps to avoid the “white/pure” problem, where anti-Mormons grasp the slightest straw to “prove” that the Church is wrong.

    Regarding the talks, my understanding is that the writers help the authorities express their own ideas. Having heard several GAs speak without a script, and having been blessed to spend some time in the Prophet’s home ward, I can hear a little more polish in Conference talks, but the same topics and the same spirit.