How to preach in a new language in just 4 months!

On July 15th of this year our family moved to Sweden and on Sunday November 13th I preached for the first time in Swedish. Here’s how it happened.

First of all a few points to set the scene. Right now the only language I’m fluent in is English. I have appalling French and improving Swedish. I knew some words and phrases before moving here but our learning began in earnest in July (well August really). At present I have a basic level of conversation and I make frequent grammatical errors in everyday speech (much like my English). But I have enough of a grasp of the general feel for the language to have a go. That, plus I was challenged too and well I don’t like to back down from those. The preach itself while not perfectly delivered wasn’t too bad and mostly didn’t detract from the content, which was a big worry.

  1. Write your sermon word for word in English: First you get your content down in the language you know best. It’s the only place to start.
  2. Edit thoroughly: I had numerous places where my sentences were too long, ideas too complex and words too elaborate. All of this makes it difficult to translate and likely difficult to deliver.
  3. Get help with the translation: Don’t rely on Google translate. It might give you the gist but chances are you going to say some strange things if that’s all you did. My talk went to at least two native Swedes who are pretty fluent in English. This ironed out any remaining complicated ideas or words that were difficult to translate.
  4. Practice your pronunciation: Having got my script in Swedish, I read it through with my translators. I didn’t preach it, just spoke it. This was to find out which words I had difficulty saying, where I was putting emphasis and stress in the wrong places, and to get a feel for the sermon.
  5. Practice preaching it: I did this a couple of times just in the house and this really helped me, get a bit of confidence. I didn’t just want to read something, I wanted to preach something!
  6. Make it easy to read: I had my talk printed out in size 14 font double spaced and I printed it in Swedish and English. 18 pages in total. I put it in a plastic binder with the English on the left and the Swedish on the right. My eye naturally looks to the right page so I could see the Swedish, but if I got a bit stuck or lost I could easily find my place again with the English. This worked really well.
  7. Have lots of encouraging friends around: No question about how important this one was; without the regular flow of encouragement from friends allaying fears about how bad my Swedish is and encouraging me to go for it this would have been hard and much more nerve-wracking than it was.
  8. Speak slow, speak clearly, stay calm: I’ve preached a lot, so that helps not having to fight the nerves about talking in front of people. But even so it was important to take my time and make sure I was clear.
  9. Don’t be afraid of adding bits in your native tongue: In a few places, I just wanted to add a bit more but my brain just couldn’t find the Swedish fast enough, so I just did it in English and the translator stepped in.
  10. Ask God for help: Nothing else to add there really.
I did make some mistakes of course and it felt like I was still reading. I felt I struggled to lift my head and really engage with the congregation but that should get better. I also sweated the pounds in sheer concentration but it was fun. The big breakthrough is now I know I can preach in Swedish. I’m hopeful that I will continue to improve and so every other time from now on should be better, more at ease, and in need of less help, but I know I can do it now. In four months so could you!

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11 Thoughts to “How to preach in a new language in just 4 months!”

  1. Wow, from just a few phrases to preaching in Swedish in three months? That’s very impressive. I wouldn’t have guessed one could make that transition so quickly.

    I’ve only stumbled upon your blog recently, but I’m always interested to hear about gospel work going on in Scandinavia. I’ve got several friends from Sweden and Finland, and there really is so much work to be done there. Blessings in your work there; I’m excited to see what God will do.

    1. Hi Jake thanks for the comment. Well, I’m not ready to do it every week and I’m not sure I could go off ‘script’ so to speak but progress is progress. Do feel free to pass on this blog to your friends in Scandinavia, always willing and interested to build gospel partnerships here, as you say, it’s badly needed. Thought your post on Driscoll’s preaching contest was apt too.

      1. Thanks, Phil. The people I know personally from Sweden live in America right now, but I know of a few others there. A guy named Forrest Hendrix is somewhere in west Stockholm, working with Greater Europe Mission. He’s been working along one of the underground lines near Varberg, and I think their aim is to plant (they may have done so already). And then I know of a team planting in Tranås, with the Presbyterian Church in America’s mission arm, Mission to the World, but that’s a bit far away from you.

        1. Forrest Hendrix, what a great name! Be great to meet any and all church planters in Stockholm. Tranås is a little further out but the nation needs new churches everywhere! What did you think about the Stefan Paas talk you linked to, I have some thoughts so might leave some comments on your blog if they mature to anything coherent.

          1. I’d appreciate that. I’m still mulling over a lot of what he said. He was really quite provocative. I was thinking of posting some follow-up thoughts soon.

  2. matthew Hosier

    Brilliant Phil! Well done

  3. Wow. I’m very impresses: after ten years here in Germany I’ll lead small groups in German, but even last night I only spoke to a larger group with a translator.

    1. Your German is clearly far superior to my Swedish. I guess I just didn’t want there to be any barrier to me preaching because I think I’ll always feel my Swedish isn’t good enough. Now I know it’ll be better and freer every time from now on. That was my thinking anyway

  4. I’m glad to hear that it went well, Phil. You give me hope, and with this post, a plan to reach that goal. And it makes me realize I can be doing a lot more right now to learn & improve my Swedish. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks Brett, how’s the Swedish going and do you have any timeframe yet for when you might get here? Stay in touch, be great to hear how things progress for you

  5. David

    Hey…I think we are more than just pretty fluent 🙂

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