Multilingual Ceremonies: How to include everyone when not everyone speaks the same language

 

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of performing a wedding for a very special couple. She’s from Turkey, he’s from Argentina, and the wedding was in New York. Between both families and the assorted guests the gathering before the ceremony sounded like the Tower of Babel.
I centered the theme of the ceremony on the universal language of love. But with neither set of parent’s speaking English the question was, how do we create a ceremony that everyone can understand?
Here are some ideas from this and other ceremonies for how you can make any ceremony inclusive of all your guests.
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Use symbols everyone can understand: This is especially easy for weddings where clothing, position of the wedding party, rings, and a kiss speak to many cultures. But you can look for common symbols for other ceremonies too.
Have a printed translation*: This weekend’s couple had programs with the entire ceremony translated into Spanish and Turkish. I could see the parents of the bride and groom following along as we went.
Here is where gestures can also be helpful. For example, I touched my heart whenever I spoke of love. I think doing so connected with those who could not understand what I was saying, and also gave a visual cue to help them find their place in the translated script as we went along.
*Life-Cycle Celebrants like me will work to have as much of the ceremony as possible accounted for in the script. Having the script ahead of time will make it easier for you to make translations. Let your Celebrant know this is part of the time-line so you can work out a schedule that lets you finalize the ceremony script in enough time for you to translate it and print copies.
Speak parts of the ceremony in all languages: You probably don’t want to do this for every word of the ceremony. The ceremony would be too long and you would lose the attention of guests and participants. But translating crucial parts of the ceremony can make everyone feel included in those moments.
In this weekend’s wedding, the couple made their vows in English and also in the languages of their families. So the bride repeated her vows in Turkish and the groom repeated his in Spanish.
In a baby naming, you might translate the part of the ceremony where you explain the baby’s name or where you speak your hopes for the child. In a funeral—or any ceremony really—you might give a reading or song in two languages.
The goal is to have moments in the ceremony that everyone can connect to. When you do this everyone present can share in your special moment and feel included rather than feeling like an audience.

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