How Does Our Letter Translation Process Work?

translate this Letters are not just pieces of paper. They carry a connection — a relationship — and love from sponsors to registered children. Letters are powerful tools. The prayers, encouragement and affection they contain can change a life. But a lot of work has to occur to get the letters on their way.

Every week the Thailand country office receives approximately 1,000 letters from sponsors. Seven Sponsor and Donor Services (SDS) staff members check in the letters, cards and photos. Then, they send the letters to be translated by contracted translators.

Most of the translators have full-time jobs, such as working as teachers or office employees, while some are retired. There are 20 translators who translate from English to Thai.

The selection criteria for translators in the Thailand office is that translators have to be Christian, attend church regularly, have English skills and have a commitment to serve the Lord in ministry. They must also pass a skill test.

Potential translators receive four letters to translate from English into Thai and Thai into English. When they finish translating the letters, a staff member proofreads the letters, checking meaning accuracy, grammar and vocabulary.

After the translators pass the test, they have an orientation introducing them to our ministry and helping them understand our technical terms.

Generally, each translator receives at least 50 letters and the translators have seven days to finish the work. The translators are not only translating the letters, but also checking on the gifts mentioned in the letters.

The translators write on the cover sheet what the gifts are, and how many. They also write down the questions you ask to ensure that the children will not miss any questions when they reply.

Once the translated letters arrive in the office, staff members randomly check letter quality by each translator. The staff then sort letters by child development center number once a month by scanning the letters into a computer data system. Then thousands of letters are ready to be sent to the children all over Thailand.

In Thailand, when the letters are in the hands of your children, they have 20 days to write back telling about their lives, school or what they learn at the center. Some children draw or paint pictures on the backs of the letters.

Then these letters are sent from the centers to the office. At this stage, 40 translators jump into the process of translating from Thai to English.

“The translation process is very important. Translators are the persons who are in the middle between child and sponsor,” explains Ampika Wongkaew, SDS Supervisor.

Chuwit Wutthikarn is a distinguished translator. He was a vice dean and professor at Payap University in Chiang Mai. He began to serve God with Compassion in 2006 after he retired, and now he is 70 years old. Chuwit receives only 30 letters per week but every letter is filled with quality.

“I take night time to translate, and I can do seven or eight letters. I spend at least 30 minutes to translate one letter. Every letter I write by hand because I think handwriting is more valuable and it creates a human touch between sponsors and children.

“Translating for me is not just a translation. I see myself as a matchmaker who will make both sponsors and children love each other.”

Chuwit spends hours searching for difficult words, such as medical, traditional or cultural terms. He even makes phone calls to specialists for advice. For cultural differences, it is a challenge for Chuwit to find the words that best explain the meaning in English. He wants to ensure that sponsors who live across the world understand the Thai context correctly.

On the last day before Chuwit brings letters back to the office, he reads through the translations at least five or six times. He will do everything to ensure that the translated letters carry the meaning and feeling the children want to express to their sponsors.

“My concern about child letters is I don’t understand what the children meant to say. They write confused sentences.”

Warunee Klinsukon is another translator who faces the same problem.

“There are some letters where the child’s handwriting is difficult to read. Also there are some words I cannot find in the dictionary. I have to take hours to find the closest meaning in various sources.”

Warunee was a former Compassion staff member who worked in Sponsor and Donor Services, and now she is a freelancer. She is in her 30s and has been helping translate with Compassion for six years. She translates 60 to 70 letters each week and uses both handwriting and typing. She spends 30 minutes for writing and 15 minutes for typing, but printing out the letters takes more time.

She has to be careful before printing them, making sure that the letters are in the same order as she set the translation on her computer. Another concern is page setting. The printer must not print over the child’s handwriting, and she has to make sure that the translation is in the provided box.

“I haven’t thought about stopping translating letters. There is a time I am tired, but I still have fun with the letters. I often see myself becoming emotional while reading and translating child letters. They bring a smile on my face and sometimes I am sad and even cry.

“A letter is a relationship between child, sponsor, translator, Compassion and God. God is the one who makes children get sponsored and have a chance to write letters to sponsors. I am happy to be a part of this ministry.”

The major errors that are found in translation are incorrect gender pronouns, printing wrong letters caused by technical problems, interpreting wrong meanings or not translating word by word, but shortening some messages, which translators think seem less important.

When the translators return the translated letters back to the office, staff check the quality of the translation and give feedback to translators for future improvement on translation.

Every Friday afternoon, about 2,500 letters travel to Compassion’s Global Ministry Center in Colorado, on their way to the mail boxes of Compassion sponsors.

33 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Susan May 22, 2011

    AMAZING! I feel a sustained urgency to pray for the translators more frequently.

  2. John Reyna May 16, 2011

    Thank you so much for working so hard. I pray God will bless you all so very much. You are so important. Great Job. I wish I could hug everyone of you. Thank you Lord for such amazing people!!

  3. Bon February 11, 2011

    My husband sponsors children, but receives his Compassion at his mother’s address in another city. He tries to bring home his letters for our kids to read. Our 14 y.o. girl had been writing and was excited to see her and her two younger brother’s names, in one letter, that were missed in the translation section, but included in the child’s writing above it. That little discovery brought her great excitement to know that the child was really reading what she had written them and tried to include their names. It was also a confirmation of the hard work by the translators, because only my husband’s name is on the account.
    My kids and I have donated to Compassion, too. I include the kids in their tithing decisions. Compassion makes that one easy for them.

  4. Daniel Sweetlin February 11, 2011

    May God Bless the translators. It is interesting to know how much work has to be done to help one another.

  5. Lynne Dickinson February 8, 2011

    Thank you so much for working with our sponsored children. The information we receive is exciting to hear and allows us to know how to pray for them…keep up the good work!

  6. Valerie Finnegan February 7, 2011

    I sincerely appreciate all these translators do. Our family is blessed by every letter we receive from our Compassion children. Thank you and be encouraged to keep up the wonderful work you do!

  7. Daniela November 28, 2010

    Hello!! I wish God our Lord bless you all for your great mission. I really would like to work with you by translating letters!!!

  8. Heather November 21, 2010

    I praise the Lord for those of you who translate these letters for the children and the sponsors. I would sponsor my child in Thailand even if there was no way to communicate but each time I receive a letter from my child I get so excited. It gives me a connection to this sweet precious child who lives thousands of miles aways from me. I have never met this little girl in person but I love her as if I have known her all her life. Thank you compassion and thank you to the translators. I am so thankful for the communication we are able to have because of our Lord and all the work you allow Him to do through you. .

  9. Jessica Bowman November 19, 2010

    This is so interesting. It must be so rewarding to be a translator, and get so be a fly on the wall of the love going back and forth between sponsor and sponsee. :)

  10. Robbie November 18, 2010

    Thank you translators!! God Bless you!

  11. maria November 17, 2010

    Thank you for this interesting post! i havent really put too much thought into how letters are translated so i am amazed to see how much effort goes into it. Thanks for all your hard work i love and treasure all letters from my sponsor children.

  12. RoseAnn McKenry November 17, 2010

    Thank you for this inspirational blog about the translators. I am happy that you have requested that the translators be Christians. It would surprise me if they were not. I know that now those who have responded would not agree with me. But I do know that if we are sharing verses or what the Lord has done in our life that a non-believer may not share that with the children. I will pray for the translators and all that they do for the children and sponsors.

  13. Bonny November 17, 2010

    I found this explanation of the translation process very interesting, thank you! I have a question if someone can help. I recently began sponsoring an 8 year old girl from Ethiopia. In her last letter it said, ‘Thanks be to you I became a nice girl’ and ‘After I became part & parcel of this project I became a clever girl’. Any ideas on what she may mean by ‘nice girl’ and ‘clever girl’? Maybe she means she is just happy, or feels special? Thank you all. -Bonny

  14. Suzanne November 17, 2010

    I was sorry to read that in order to qualify as a Thailand letter translator, you must be a christian, attend church regularly and have a commitment to serve the Lord.
    As I feel this is where we all want to be in our journey with Christ, to exclude someone who is not a christian is missing an opportunity to minister to those who do not serve the Lord.
    I am so surprised that this would be criteria to work/volunteer for Compassion.
    I recommend you view a wonderful video on-line titled Bubble Creek Canyon. It is a humorous (but serious message) reminder for me that I often try to surround myself with people that look and think like I do, when what I am really called for is to put myself in places that allow me to share my faith which in turn grows my faith.
    Thank you for listening.
    New Compassion Sponsor

  15. Lisa November 16, 2010

    Thank you so much to all of the translators. I never thought about what a challenging job they must have translating words between languages AND cultures.

    They certainly make the relationship between us and our kids possible. What a great ministry. Thank you!!!

  16. Warapong November 16, 2010

    As a SDS staff in Thailand, we are proud to be a part of this ministry. We definitely are going to work hard to make your relationship between your sponsored child and you stronger.
    Thank you for all of your prayers.

  17. Megan – Faith Like Mustard November 16, 2010

    I had not considered praying for the translators, but now I will! What a great privilege and great responsibility!

  18. Jan J. November 16, 2010

    Thank you for sharing this – I can’t wait to share it with my 13-year-old daughters as we have often wondered about the process to translate our letters. I am so appreciative of the time and care taken to do that – what a special ministry these translators have! I appreciate also that Compassion ENCOURAGES familes to write often when it is so much work to translate the letters. It shows how much care for each child is involved in this wonderful ministry. I am so thankful and humbled to be part of it.

  19. Michelle ~ Blogging from the Boonies November 16, 2010

    We often pray for the translators, but I think I will try to mention my thankfulness for the translators in my next round of letters. We truly value our letters from our children and we do our best to keep the translators busy by writing to all 8 of our Compassion kids twice a month.

  20. Sarah November 16, 2010

    I am so humbled by this amazing effort by the translators. We can never thank you enough for all you do to make these relationships possible! I have one question; what happens to the letters that are being written by sponsors in languages other than English? Are there translators in each office fluent in all these different languages?

    1. Kees Boer November 16, 2010

      That’s a great question. In Holland, there is a group of advocates, who translate letters from Dutch to English and then there are advocates, who translate from English to Dutch… I just found a sponsor for a child in Holland today and I had to fill in the form for the Dutch sponsor. Some of the questions on the form dealt with whether the new sponsor needed translation for their letters or could write them in English…

  21. Sharon Graf November 16, 2010

    Thank you so much for the wonderful work you do. I was amazed by the translation department in Thailand. You guys do a great job and I greatly appreciate you.

  22. Lorraine November 16, 2010

    Thank you for sharing this with us. As an advocate it helps me to understand and explain to sponsors why it takes so long for a letter to reach them and their child. You are all doing a marvellous job and we as sponsors appreciate you all so much. Without you, we would have little or no contact with our children. You are clearly “disciples”. God Bless you all.

  23. Chicky November 16, 2010

    Thank you so much to all the translators! Your efforts are greatly appreciated! God bless you all!

  24. Becky November 16, 2010

    Thanks for this post. The translator comments about how it can be hard to read the kids handwriting and how many of them lack proper punctuation is something I only recently thought of when others have posted translation questions on I know it can be quite challenging to translate from one language to another when some languages don’t have the same words (for instance, French has ‘house’ but not ‘home’ and ‘disposable’ doesn’t exist in German). When you add those problems to little kids learning to write, it makes things so much more challenging. One woman on OC wrote how she thought she’d been given a letter from the wrong kid and wrong age. But, once her husband, who spoke the language, translated the letter, he told her the kid didn’t use periods (ie, one long sentence of a letter), and that the child had spelling mistakes in the words in question. The man said if he didn’t know the background of the child as he did from his wife, he would have translated the letter in the same manner as the official translation his wife received.

    1. Kees Boer November 16, 2010

      I translated a few letters from Holland that had somehow skipped the Dutch translators, so they asked me to translate the letters. I noticed that at times, I couldn’t translate the Dutch phrases exactly and I had to go for kind of a meaning of the whole phrase… It was a bit of a challenge, because I wanted to translate as much as I could and not to interpret…. But then the “weight” of the phrases would be difficult. Because it is not phrased that way….
      I know that the Wycliffe translators of the Bible faces this same challenge…. For instance, we use the phrase to love with our heart. Other countries and cultures don’t love with their heart, but with their stomach. They do not use the phrase “heart”: there. So then the translators have to make it the word “stomach.” But now, they are starting to venture on the level of interpretation of the Scriptures….. In the Bible, this becomes a dangerous venue to step into for translators, because different churches tend to interpret differently. It’s a very fine line…. I found that the NIV is a slight bit more interpretive then the NASB…. But then during the translation of the NIV, they had 150 people from every type of denomination cross checking each other, so that no one’s bias of interpretation would go into there, but they were strictly translating….
      Anyways, of course none of our letters or the children’s letters are Divinely Inspired…. (though they are inspirational many times!!!) But the difficulties in translation are the same.

  25. Rebecca November 16, 2010

    It makes me sad that they receive 1,000 letters a week but send out 2,500 a week. Since the kids probably send out three letters a year, that means that less than half the kids on average are even getting three letters a year from their sponsors.

    1. April November 16, 2010

      I think there’s less cause for sadness than you think! It says that 1,000 letters a week go to the Thailand office . . . and 2,500 letters a week come into the U.S. to Compassion sponsors (not just of Thai children). :)

      1. Rebecca November 16, 2010

        It’s written by someone from the Thai office. I really do think she means 2500 letters go every Fri afternoon FROM Thailand to Colorado. I know the Compassion office in Colorado gets way more than 2500 pieces of mail a week from sponsored kids. There are over one million sponsored children right now, each child writes a minimum of 3 times a year, so that’s 3 million child letters per year, divided by 52 weeks would be almost 58,000 child letters per week, and actually it will be more than that because several countries are now reciprocal and those children write more than 3 letters per year. I know there are more Compassion sponsor countries than just the US, so some of those letters are going to Canada, Australia, UK, etc., but even so, at a minimum of 58,000 child letters a week, you know the US office has to be receiving a lot more than 2500.

        1. Kees Boer November 16, 2010

          I think that Thailand is reciprocal…. I also take the 2500 letters going out as an average….. Every child writes 3 letters a year….Those are called program letters. The child will write these 3 letters, totally irregardless whether the sponsor writes a letter or not. They are written every four months and arrive from the projects at the country offices in big stacks…. With the reciprocal countries, the child will write a response to each letter they receive…. Sometimes that response will be part of the programletters. In other words, if they have to write a program letter anyway, then they write their answer in the programletter. It definitely seems that Thailand is a reciprocal country, because they mentioned that every letter has 20 days to be answered.
          In Bolivia, the average child receives 1 letter/year…. Of course that is totally an average…. I.e. some children receive many letters, others receive none. I assume that this is the same in Thailand. About 10% of the children in any project receive a letter each month.
          So, I think that this 2500 is an average, that is partly a result of the program letters. If there are 50,000 sponsored children in Thailand, there would be 50,000 letters going out 3 times a year, roughly of course…. If it is like Bolivia, those are 3 periods a year of big bundles going out. Then in between these 3 periods, you’d have just the reciprocal letters going out, which would be a lot less. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that every country operates like the Bolivian office. So, maybe it’s a little different.

    2. stephanie November 16, 2010

      I noticed this disparity, too… very sad. I am terrible at sitting down and writing letters but I make myself do it because I know how meaningful it is to my child. It always becomes really fun, picking out stickers and postcards and other pretty things to send to her. Writing to them is the only way they know we actually care about them as individuals!

  26. Juli Jarvis November 16, 2010

    Wow — this is such a huge task! I loved reading about this office, since I just visited you in May! We appreciate the translators all around the world so much! Please know that we are praying for you too. You are one of the key links between us and our precious children.

  27. JD November 16, 2010

    This post touched my heart… I often pray for the translators as I write to our Compassion children. Without their valuable ministry to Compassion, we, as sponsors, would struggle to form a relationship with the children we sponsor, and the children would miss out on this beautiful opportunity to connect with people who love them beyond measure… Without translators, we would all miss out on this beautiful gift.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you… to Compassion, and to the translators who take such care in connection our hearts to the hearts of these children.

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