“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” – Neh. 8:8
One of SWM’s greatest joys is making the Bible clear to Deaf people through preaching, teaching, writing, and interpreting. Sign language is a visual language. Most speakers need advice on how to use an interpreter. When a message is directed toward Deaf people, it is wise for speakers to adjust their way of thinking and speaking to make the message more clear. A few changes help greatly. Here are several helpful hints.
- Have only one major topic per sermon. Talking about too many things at one time can be confusing. Have one main preaching point or purpose for the message.
- Make sure your ideas follow a logical and planned pattern. Ideas should flow smoothly. Also, avoid jumping from idea to idea too quickly.
- Take plenty of time to develop each idea fully. Make sure each idea is understood before moving to the next idea. It is better to communicate few truths more clearly.
- Make sure your interpreter understands you. Before your sermon, take time to share the highlights of your message with your interpreter. Be sure to include hard or unfamiliar words, difficult concepts, illustrations you plan to use, your main preaching point, your outline, your desire for the audience’s response, etc.
- Use the structure: Topic – Comment. Make sure the topic of conversation is clear at the beginning. Emphasize when you change topics or subjects. Tell the location, time, and person first, then make your comments. Sometimes in English the topic or subject appears last in the sentence or paragraph.
- Choose your target audience – Children, Adults, Parents, Deaf, Hearing, High language level, Low language level, etc. – In a mixed audience, plan something to reach each group. For example, 70% Deaf adults and 30% teens.
- Read Bible verses slowly, naturally, and clearly. Allow the natural meaning of the verses to become clear as you read. Rapid Bible reading is rarely interpreted accurately.
- Think visually. Illustrate with something the audience can see or has experienced. Allow time for them to watch your illustration, then look back at the interpreter for your explanation.
- Watch for understanding in the eyes of the Deaf audience. Realize there will be a delay between when you speak and the interpreter signs your thought. Speaking more slowly and understanding the delay will help.
- Use simple and complete sentences. Make sure the meaning is clear.
- Stop (pause) when Deaf people look away or are distracted. When they are not looking, they cannot hear you. Deaf people rely more on their eyes than hearing people do. Hearing people may be awkward during pauses, but Deaf tend to appreciate waiting until the distraction is past.
- Repeat or rephrase to make the message clear. Deaf people tend to value repetition. It can emphasize the point or add clarity.
- Ask questions, then give answers. This is one of the ways Sign Language is normally used. Example: “Does God love Deaf people? Yes, God loves Deaf!” or “God created the world in how many days? God created the world in six days.”
- It is fine to use hand and body gestures. You may want to instruct your interpreter to have the Deaf watch you as you describe something with gestures. Also, when you make a specific gesture – how tall, how deep, how large – wait until the interpreter catches up and the Deaf people can see your gesture before you proceed.
- Use the same words throughout the sermon or lesson. For example, the words, “saved,” “born-again,” and “receive Jesus Christ as Savior” all mean about the same thing. Switching between those words can be confusing. One Deaf person said, “I have been saved, and have received Jesus Christ, but today I want to be born again.” Why? The message was confusing.
- Explain unfamiliar topics or words. Describe, tell stories, and use positive and negative examples, until the topic or word is very clear. Continue only when they understand you (even if you cannot finish your lesson).
- Use specific and clear words and illustrations regarding sin. Say the word you mean. Do not try to be polite. Deaf people tend to value clear communication more than politeness. Examples: say gossip instead of tattle-tale, say lie instead of fib, say rebellion instead of stubbornness. Name a sin, rather than be polite.
- Be very clear in the invitation. Make sure the deaf audience understands which decision you are asking them to make. Complete the salvation invitation before encouraging service.
- Leave them wanting more. When people understand, they tend to want more. Speak for clear understanding, not just to say words.
Talk with the Deaf people before and after your message. Developing a good relationship will strengthen your message.
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