While general conference is being viewed or heard by millions around the world, a force of skilled volunteers is seated in booths in the basement of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, focused intently on providing simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings, all or in part, for listeners in 49 languages.
In the language-services profession, oral translation of live events is known as interpretation, and the Translation Department of the Church has been doing it twice yearly for general conference for many years. (The new Conference Center is not yet wired for interpretation, so the interpreters, at the moment, are still doing their work from the Tabernacle basement.)
In addition to the 49 languages transmitted to listeners via infrared receivers in the Conference Center and overflow areas, the conference proceedings are sent over satellite in 23 languages to live audiences and over the Internet in 34 languages. For areas that cannot receive satellite or Internet transmissions, languages are dubbed onto videotapes of the conference.
Though general conference is the most visible of the interpretation work the department does, it is by no means all of it, according to David Frischknecht, managing director of the Translation Department.
"Last year we interpreted for 54 events at Church headquarters," he said. "That includes general conference, but also the monthly Church Educational System firesides. Sometimes we help with regional conferences, and we do interpretation for the Mission Presidents Seminar, Temple Presidents Seminar and Church department seminars put on for international managers who come in from around the world. And we have started helping with the BYU Education Week."
Interpreters come from the ranks of those who work in the department. Others are Church members who live along Utah's Wasatch Front and have developed their skills to the point they can do the work. Interpretation is done into the interpreter's native language. Thus the interpreters are familiar with the idioms and phrasing particular to the language.
It is stressful, demanding work.
"It requires the help of the Lord and the spiritual gifts," Brother Frischknecht said. "And it takes keen mental and personal preparation by the interpreters. It's a talent they have to develop, and they receive divine help to do it."