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Helping Newcomers Break the Language Barrier: The Importance of Simultaneous Translation in Houses of Worship

Immigrants are a large and diverse group in the United States whose trend is currently increasing. They represent almost 12.5 percent of the population and bring a tremendous diversity of language, culture, religion, socioeconomic status and life experience. Their challenges are enormous: Not only must they adapt to a new culture and language as well as overcome discrimination; many come to this country after having experienced multiple unfortunate or stressful situations.

Many times houses of worship provide not only basic needs to immigrants and their children, such as food, housing or clothing. They can also help immigrants integrate into the community and get acclimatized to the new culture.

But unfortunately, due to the language barrier that hinders their understanding, often times they stop attending religious services or look for a service in their own language even if it means that they have to drive several miles or go to another city for such a service, adding even more difficulties to a story many times narrated.

And this becomes a great problem, as active participation in faith communities helps immigrants adapt to life in the United States in many different ways. These communities can use customs and values of immigrants as a way to bridge the gap between the cultures. Faith communities actually have the potential to help immigrants gain the resources and skills they need for full participation in U.S. society. Houses of worship are, in this sense, sites of contact for an English-speaking congregation and a non-English-speaking congregation.

Often, there is a shortage of culturally sensitive workers and services, but barriers also include practical problems such as difficulty finding transportation or child care and many times communication problems, represented by language differences, creating the need for translation and interpretation within these communities. As immigrants experience separation from family, language, community, and culture during the immigration process, they find themselves searching for meaning and stability.

Their involvement in religious communities helps fill the void and gives them refuge from the difficulties they face in the broader society. Churches become places where the newcomers can find much needed fellowship with others that share their religion, customs, and traditional beliefs and values, giving them a sense of community and belonging, most importantly a place where they feel secure.

Amidst all the other changes and pressures that immigrants face in the broader society to conform to American ways and to learn to speak English, they are able to find some freedom and refuge within religious institutions.

But for this, it is necessary to establish common ground to communicate and understand what is being said. Hence, we want to bring a solution to the thousands of newcomers that do not speak the language of the sermon, yet want to seek out others who are of the same religion or creed, thanks to language interpretation (also referred to as simultaneous interpretation or simultaneous translation) equipment.

And this is very important, as the religious marketplace in the US is remarkably competitive. Several surveys find that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths. In this context, providing simultaneous translation and interpretation could represent an aggregated value for churchgoers.


The rise of Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and other immigrants in Florida and across the country has prompted several churches and other houses of worship to attract these groups to their religious services and offer them reassurance and comfort. And in a market as complex and dynamic as the American one, not being able to attract new churchgoers becomes a real problem. A major barrier churches need to overcome is the language barrier, and for this simultaneous translation is required. Enersound’s equipment allows the congregation to hear what the preacher is saying in their own language, in real time, through the voice of a translator.

Despite the enormous technological advancements in the past decades, there is still no solution on the market that will automatically translate services without a live, human interpreter, and most churches usually rely on volunteer interpreters from the community if they cannot afford to employ a professional one.

A typical language interpretation system for a church consists of an FM transmitter -that can be table top or battery operated- and microphone for the translator. The congregation uses wireless receivers with headphones. If translating multiple languages, multi-channel transmitters and receivers may be used, with one transmitter per language.

There is no limit to the number of receivers you can have for your congregants. A base transmitter has a coverage area of up to 1,000 feet. So you can start small with a basic system for your existing foreign-speaking parishioners, and upgrade the system by getting additional receivers and headphones as this population grows. You can also increase the number of languages offered by purchasing additional transmitters and microphones, one per language interpreted.

For the hard of hearing at your church, mosque or synagogue, Enersound has come up with state of the art assistive listening FM systems (usually consisting of a stationary transmitter and wireless receivers and headphones) that enable the message to be heard by congregation members of all ages and hearing abilities and allow for greater participation.

FM technology has done more than just break the barriers of communication and culture in houses of worship. FM language interpretation and assistive listening systems can be used for Sunday services, during religious holidays, for youth groups and various ministries, during special events, mission tours, ceremonies and many other occasions.

When speaking about our systems, Pastor Clifton from Louisiana makes this point very clear: “We use them each Sunday – by having them, we are able to have two services simultaneously (one in English, another in Spanish).  This is such a blessing – we thought we were going to have to conduct a complete new set of services to accommodate the Spanish speakers – with your equipment, that need has been met.”

With Enersound language interpretation technology, interpreters can now provide real time simultaneous language interpretation in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and any other languages needed, with one channel dedicated to assistive listening if necessary. Worship services can now be more fully integrated and accessible to all cultures and languages, helping newcomers to feel welcomed and included.

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