In praise of powerpoint: helping non-native speakers follow a sermon

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When people ask me if I’m fluent in German, I hesitate; I can speak it, I can work in it, and can follow most of the conversation around the table in the canteen, but I do make up most of my grammar, and still have no idea which article I’m supposed to be using, let alone which case it is in. For this reason, I usually answer that I’m conversant. However, I do struggle with following the sermon.

With the move to Karlsruhe, we had no option for an English language church, and, in any case, wanted to get involved in a German church. The church we have started going to does usually have someone translating (the gift of tongues!), but there are not always enough receivers / ear-pieces to go around. “Sermon” german is not necessarily the kind of language that I use at work, for example (just as journalistic german is also quite different from the vernacular ), however they use powerpoint in a way which I find very helpful. We had tried another church, which had neither translation nor powerpoint, and the difference the latter makes is huge. Putting certain, important things on a screen allows someone to grasp them more easily than if they’re only part of the spoken element.

So here are some ways in which I think Powerpoint can be used to benefit those in the congregation who are not native speakers.

Give the general idea / the topic

One if the biggest keys to understanding what is being said, is to know the topic. Knowing the subject kind of narrows the scope of vocabulary.

Give major points / section headers

When learning a language it’s important to be able to grasp the meaning of a sentence without necessarily understanding each word. If the powerpoint gives section headers, it’s easier to do this. It also means that if someone gets sidetracked by not understanding something, or simply zoning out (really easy to do when it’s not your language), they can pick it up again much more easily. If someone’s language skills are really basic, at the very least, they might be able to use a dictionary to translate the sentence by the time the next point comes along – they’ve at least got the main points!

Give bible references

 When referencing bible verses, putting up on the screen allows people to look it up in their own language. Displaying the passages on the screen also allows the reader to compare with their native-language version and perhaps learn a few new words.

Some further thoughts on songs: Sometimes we sing well-known songs in English, and they always have a German translation underneath. As it is, I can generally understand the words to the German songs, as lyrics are usually a bit simpler and slower moving than spoken text, not to mention, many have similar themes and recurring words. The points about being able to look things up in dictionaries is also applicable here. If there are a significant number of people from a given country who attend your church, it might be worth putting a translation under the lyrics of songs.

How do you find Powerpoint during a sermon helpful?

Is there anything else that you think can help non-native speakers to follow along? 




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