Review of integration of English and Farsi results

All members of Newbury ecclesia were asked to rate their experiences of the different ways we have so far tried to integrate these two first languages spoken (we did not include Spanish!) There were 25 replies – 28 English speakers and 7 Farsi.
The five methods brothers and sisters were asked to comment were

1. Simultaneous translation of the full service
2. Simultaneous translation of part of the service
3. Readings and Thanks for emblems in Farsi and the next in English (or vice versa)
4. Separate breakout rooms for English and Farsi speakers for exhortation
5. Simultaneous caption translation in Farsi Everyone was asked to score each method out of five.

Brothers and sisters were also asked to put forward any additional suggestions they had. These were quite wide ranging with many constructive ideas, several comments about how well things were going and a few expressing concerns.

Initial observations

English and Farsi speakers both appreciated having exhortations in their own languages (Q5). Next most popular for English speaking members was having readings and prayers in different languages without translation and for Farsi speaking members it was a tie between that and simultaneous translation of part of the service (we think there was a confusion about what score rated highest and which lowest).

The methods that gave brothers and sisters the opportunity to hear something in their own language uninterrupted by translation were therefore the regarded as the most helpful strategies.

As a couple of people pointed out, these are actually the least integrated of the methods. The dilemma of how to promote integration without the sense of discontinuity created by translation was illustrated by another comment:

“I do not feel that the new brethren should always be funnelled off into a separate breakout room or they will feel isolated when they wish to know us”,

but then added

,”we currently find the meetings too disrupted.”

For English speakers ‘disruption’ was not just a result of translation but also difficulties of technology and that occasionally there is confusion about what is supposed to be happening.

English and Farsi speakers both found that questions being asked that were not related to the meeting were unhelpful (at least to them).
Many helpful suggestions were made to address these issues, which I shall come to after dealing with those regarding the integration of languages.

Integrating English and Farsi in services

The Breadth of views

Three English speakers want at least some meetings to be exclusively in English (services or ‘socials’), while a couple of others would like some services to be wholly shared, including exhortations given by an Iranian brother. The great majority of members, English and Farsi speaking, think the current strategy of finding a balance of using both languages in services is the way forward, but several had suggestions about how things could be improve; not many of these coincide!

These ideas

Increasing the amount written on screen: – a hymn could be in Farsi with a translation in English on screen – have prayers in English with the Farsi on screen – have the prayer update and/or announcements on screen in both languages – if a reading is in English have the Farsi on screen (and vice versa) – the one or two who would like an occasional service spoken entirely in English emphasised that the Farsi should be on screen Decreasing the amount written on screen: – don’t rely on on-screen translation, which could be ‘damaging’, and too small to read on a phone – Use slides sparingly so that we can enjoy the gallery view when they are unnecessary.

Increasing the amount of spoken translation

– have just one prayer for the bread and wine translated line by line (most people who commented on this find ‘line by line’ translation a hindrance to concentration) Decreasing the amount of spoken translation

– have the prayer update and/or announcements given in the breakout rooms

– alternatively, apart from the most important issues, send these out in emails (both languages)

– only translate what is needed for each language group to participate and gain from the service (not things that may be informative but not necessary, such as what the other group’s exhortation was about)

Other suggestions: – have the thanks for emblems back to back rather than before the bread and then the wine [2] – Having a split screen of the two people Persian and English (presumably speaker and translator) – not sure this is technically possible.

– Improving how services are run

Beadth of views

– Some English and Farsi speakers think what we are doing now, trying different ways and having a variety of approaches, works well. Explanations include the possibility of better methods emerging, because different style suit different speakers and presidents, or because, for them, “it is going great”.

– There were some very positive comments, such as, ‘I think a combination of break out room and translation by a translator is better, first we are with brothers and sisters in a same room and then separated for exhortation and at the end we can join to each other.

– However, many English speaking members think there are ways of improving the overall running and organisation of meetings – not just how languages are integrated.

The ideas

Three themes emerged:

1. separate the role of president from that of hosting the meeting – that is, have a designated person, ‘“a steward of the digital age” (on a rota) to look after the technical aspects of online meetings, allowing the president to concentrate on conducting the service.

2. simplifying the service by such things as having an order that we generally follow, being clear what needs to be translated and what does not, and each contribution, (prayers, updates and announcements being as succinct as possible, using short, easily translatable sentences).

3. encouraging shared expectations of how the meeting will be conducted (for English and Farsi members and visitors) Specific suggests were: – a host to greet everyone and/or control who speaks during the service by muting everyone other than those actually contributing, particularly when joining after 10.00 and [an additional suggestion not from the survey] to identify who is visiting from outside Newbury and welcome them during the service. – a period of contemplation encouraged at the start of the service by playing a piece of music – as breakout rooms end, wait patiently and quietly for each group to finish and the main group to prepare to welcome back others (someone else suggested ensuring strict timing so groups finish at roughly the same time) – ensure everyone can be heard (this is probably impossible given the numbers of people online at one time) – there was a request for more traditional hymns, and another comment that poor transmission / sound quality impairs their ability to encourage worship

Wider comments and ideas

– More interaction between English and Persian members, socials that could include recipe swapping, pics and stories of a previous life, to find out more about each other, our faith and characters. Breakout room groups with English and Farsi speaking members together for short sessions and then moving on.

– Several expressions of thanks to presidents and our translator, ‘They are doing a great job, all of them!’

– Have regular issues of ‘The Grapevine’ that everyone could contribute to

– Appoint a ‘Care Officer’ for each language who can liaise with each other and flag up problems before they become issues.

– Our services should encourage understanding and speaking of / listening to English (because as things settle down brothers will move to other ecclesiae and become integrated into the life of that community.

– It would be helpful to acknowledge and address the spiritual dimensions in some way (a short talk? a letter to all members?) to talk through “why this is happening, that God is in this process, it presents challenges which we are sure we can work together to solve” — acknowledging the difficulties and involving everyone in the process.

– Similar problems arose in the early days and the action taken is interesting and perhaps worth thinking about (Acts 6v1-4 ).

Recommendations (some of these are already being followed)

1. We should continue with the current practice of providing exhortations in both English and Farsi as the main way to conduct breaking of bread services – at least while the current situation remains

2. The Farsi exhort is arranged by Chris E at relatively short notice at the moment, helped by no shortage of volunteers. This should be on the same footing as English services and put in the ecclesial programme.

3. It would be helpful for new people to know what is expected in meetings, especially joining. There needs to be a balance between friendly greetings and members preparing themselves for the service.

We suggest:

• Advertise a start time of 09.45 for 10.00 start
• Take a moment to judge what’s going on when joining a meeting to avoid interrupting what is already going on
• If joining a meeting after 09.55 use the chat function to say ‘hello!’ so as not to disturb the winding down of conversation before the meeting starts.
• Presidents (or tech host) to use “mute all” and implement a couple of minutes or so of meditation time around 10.00, with or without instrumental music.
• Also, questions are often helpful for everyone if about the subject being discussed; if you have other issues you would like to ask for yourself it is best to request a time to do so – which may be outside the meeting you are currently in

4. The running of services is helped by everyone knowing what is coming up. This does not mean them having to follow the same pattern every week but good liaison, particularly between the president and translator so that no one is ‘caught out’ or left wondering who is supposed to be doing what. This would make IT issues and waiting for a breakout room to finish more tolerable.

5. Using slides with English and Farsi text can be useful for a range of things, for example,

• To let everyone know the order of service
• To remind participants of when the meeting is due to start and for them to mute
• The words of hymns and songs, or course, However, there also needs to be time when the congregation can see each other and so have a sense of joining in a communal activity, so be judicious about their use. Also be mindful that many participants will be viewing the service on a phone; the font and any images therefore need to be clear and large.

6. It makes more sense that prayer for the bread and wine are given in English and Farsi before either are taken as then all brothers and sisters have heard thanks given beforehand.

7. Presidents to encourage more use of the ‘hand up’ gesture when there is discussion in a service. This should avoid people having to find the right time to get their voice heard and give time for everyone to make a contribution.

8. A ‘tech host’ is appointed to run the IT side of things, leaving the president to concentrate on the running of the service. A list of responsibilities to be drawn up and volunteers ask to join a rota – potentially after training.

Chris Peel

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