Preparation for Preaching in a Second Language: language training


Many new missionaries view learning to preach in a foreign language as one of their most important objectives. As many ministers can attest, however, learning to engage in polite conversation and shop at the market vastly differs from preaching. Public speaking can be intimidating in your language, let alone in another language. For additional preparation, you can study online with teachers or take classes with preachers from other churches for business language training (here - For extra practice, we recommend enrolling in business English tutoring to help alleviate the fear of public speaking. 

Even if you can confidently preach in your native tongue, the actuality of preaching in a second language imposes a measure of humility on the evangelist. You can never be sure that what is coming out of your mouth is exactly what you intend to say or that your listeners comprehend the point you are attempting to make. If they need help understanding, is it a matter of content or language? Preaching in a second language is fraught with the possibility of causing irreparable pronunciation mistakes and poor word selection. At a bare minimum, the breadth and complexity of what you can express in a second language is less than what you could do in your primary tongue. And even if your language skills are adequate, do you comprehend the local culture? 

Given these limitations, how should you prepare to preach in a foreign language? Indeed, each preacher has their preparation method, which was likely shaped by their seminary or Bible college education or by observing the preaching of others. What may be effective for one preacher may not be effective for another. As I converse with other missionaries about preaching in English, I've discovered that we all face similar obstacles and difficulties when preaching in our second language, and we can learn from one another.

Select a Passage Appropriate to Your Language Skills

Keep things simple when just beginning to preach in a second language. Not uncomplicated or superficial, but straightforward. Initially, it is best to avoid passages that contain too many unfamiliar words or a problematic grammatical structure. A brief course (five verses or fewer) is likely safer and more manageable than a more extended passage (10 to 15 poems or more). The more your language develops, the greater your capacity to comprehend lengthier and more intricate passages. Short narrative courses are typically more straightforward to understand than Psalms or Romans.

Select a Passage Tailored to Your Audience

What is the standard of education of the audience? Are they verbal (concrete) or literate (conceptual) thinkers? To what extent are they acquainted with the Bible and a Christian worldview? Which cultural phenomenon in the Bible would they readily comprehend? Which would be the most alien? You may proselytize to a significantly different audience than you would in your native country.

Read, Reread, and Reread the Local Language Passage

I have been a Christian for approximately twenty years and have been reading the English Bible for roughly the same period. Consequently, I am familiar with biblical expressions such as "turn the other cheek," "love your neighbor as yourself," and "put on the full armor of God." However, when I began acquiring English, my familiarity with biblical expressions was reset to zero. I never encountered the word "armor" during my English language studies. Similarly, lepers, clerics, and Abraham's bosom are not part of my everyday existence in England. Before I can stand up and preach from an English Bible passage, I must spend much time familiarising myself with the course in English.  

After selecting the passage to recite, I did so in English. Then, I reread it. Still again. Occasionally, I jot down unfamiliar words in the Bible or on a nearby notepad, but for the most part, I am simply reading. I will read the passage aloud to hear how it sounds and to help me break up the sentences at the appropriate points. Listening to an audio recording of the course read by a native speaker can also aid comprehension of the passage's cadence. My objective is to become very familiar with the path in the language I will be preaching in so that I can refer to phrases, concepts, or sections of the passage without constantly referring to my notes. Some words and expressions must be memorized and readily recalled so that I can focus on my message and my audience and save time searching for the correct word.

Examine the Text in the Local Language

There is only sometimes a clear distinction between reading and analyzing the passage in the local language because my mind constantly processes the passage's meaning as I read and reread. I use the same Bible for reading and research that I will carry into the pulpit. I do consult other Bible translations in multiple languages, but the preponderance of my research is conducted in the text of the Bible version from which I will preach. I want to be familiar with the Bible's terminology to refer to it while evangelizing.

On occasion, the local language version(s) and the English version(s) differ significantly in a way that impacts the passage's meaning. One of the risks of delivering a sermon through translation or without first reviewing the course in the local language is being startled by significant translation differences. Better to be astonished while studying than while preaching. When there are substantial discrepancies, I open my Bible study software to examine Greek and Hebrew. I know that not everyone can learn Greek and Hebrew, but I can attest that it is useful when discrepancies arise. The English language is not the standard for determining what the Bible states, so the ability to seek something in the original language can be of great assistance in reducing our inherent cultural biases.

Select Appropriate Examples and Illustrations

You may have an excellent illustration for this passage, but if the local audience cannot relate to it, you should not use it. A classic example is American evangelists using a football analogy in a country where the sport is unpopular. Use as many local expressions, sayings, and examples as possible. However, if you do not know any that suit the passage, you should omit it. These sorts of things occur over time.

Take Notes That Can Be Used

I wouldn't say I like delivering sermons from a manuscript. My eye contact, fluency, and passion diminish when I cannot find my position on the page or feel trapped by the precise diction of what is written. I work more effectively with a general outline or bullet points to remind me of the sermon's direction. However, some men enjoy manuscript preaching, which is fine if it works for them.  

One of the unique challenges of preaching in English is my ability to read English rapidly or scan a page to locate the information I seek. I have attempted to carry a manuscript or pages of detailed English notes into the pulpit, but as I begin speaking and glancing down at my notes for my next point, I cannot locate my place. Since English uses a non-Romanized script, I cannot scan it, let alone check a page and find my position. When I am anxious, it is as if I am observing the Matrix.