The UMC: A Church of Many Languages

The Bishop Daniel Lunge assisted by UMCOR volunteers including Armand Osango and Placide gave the bag of rice to Papa Jean Okito, one of the victims. The Church brought food to displaced people who fled clashes between two communities following a forest conflict. Photo by Francois Omanyondo, UM News.
The Bishop Daniel Lunge assisted by UMCOR volunteers including Armand Osango and Placide gave the bag of rice to Papa Jean Okito, one of the victims. The Church brought food to displaced people who fled clashes between two communities following a forest conflict. Photo by Francois Omanyondo, UM News.

By Aaron Crisler

As a global denomination, The United Methodist Church includes people who speak many different languages. For example, of the more than 12 million United Methodists worldwide, 4.5 million speak French and 400,000 are Portuguese-speaking. 

United Methodist Communications, the communications agency of The United Methodist Church, has made it a priority to communicate in the languages and cultural contexts of the church and provide easily accessible content in those languages.

UMC.org - the denomination's official website - now includes content on the site in five languages: English, French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. Joe Iovino, Director, Member Communications, says: "The agency's goal is to produce original content created by native speakers to provide relevant storytelling for the respective audiences." 

Domingo de Ramos, 10 de abril de 2022 A devotional graphic in Spanish.

For example, Spanish-speaking United Methodists produced daily devotions for Holy Week in Spanish which were translated for the English-speaking audience. Iovino says UMC.org is currently expanding its pool of contractors to include writers for each language.   

In 2021, the Spanish-language site experienced an increase of 147 percent in page views, while the French-language site had an increase in web traffic of more than 80 percent over the previous year. The Korean and Portuguese sites saw more than a 50 percent increase in web traffic. A translations database assists with the content alignment and translations of content produced in English are ongoing to expand the database.

Dr. Michelle Maldonado, Director of Seeker Advertising & Communications, oversees content for those seeking spiritual connection but who may not yet be members of The United Methodist Church. Under UMC.org's "New to the UMC" section of the website, readers will find articles available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Korean. 

Maldonado says using native speakers is essential to ensure contextual accuracy. "When it comes to translation work, languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and French are spoken in many countries other than where the language originated (Spain, Portugal, France). Because of the numerous differences within those languages, depending on the country, it is important that a native speaker who is aware of those differences and cultural factors translate -- but, most importantly, adapts the translation." In addition to translating content, the team collaborates with United Methodist Communications' Creative Services team to provide translations for local church outreach products.

United Methodist News also produces content for the church's diverse language groups, with separate portals for EnglishFrenchKoreanPortuguese and Spanish. UM News produced 800 pieces of content in these languages in 2021. The Ask The UMC ministry also produced FAQ articles that were prominently featured on all five portals, addressing topics as diverse as baptism, life after death and how to help when a disaster strikes.”

"In the case of United Methodist News, we not only translate from English and create content in other languages, but we also translate and adapt from other languages to English and create different versions of the story to focus on the relevancy for each audience," says Gustavo Vasquez-Paredes, Director Hispanic-Latino News. "This may seem like a small detail, but in a global church, this means everyone has a chance to be heard."

 A praise team from Central Korean United Methodist Church in Dallas leads hymns and songs during the first in-person gathering of the Association of Korean Churches in The United Methodist Church. Photo by the Rev. Thomas Kim, UM News.
A praise team from Central Korean United Methodist Church in Dallas leads hymns and songs during the first in-person gathering of the Association of Korean Churches in The United Methodist Church. Photo by the Rev. Thomas Kim, UM News.

“The Korean UM News shares stories not only from the Korean community, but also translated English stories to bridge and connect Korean audiences and the entire denomination through news, commentaries and Ask the UMC,” states Thomas Kim, director of Korean/Asian News.

Additionally, e-newsletters are produced in Spanish, Portuguese and Korean. The UMComtigo e-newsletter provides news, resources and other information in both Spanish and Portuguese. Likewise, the Duru Allimi e-newsletter offers news and resources for leaders in Korean. 

"Communicating in ways that are authentic – and culturally competent – goes beyond language. That is where the beauty of being connectional shines through. Through our network of partners, people can tell stories within their cultural settings, lifting up voices, perspectives and issues that reflect the realities they are experiencing," said Tim Tanton, Chief News & Information Officer. "Those contexts vary widely across the global connection. When people see the news in their own languages, addressing their own interests and concerns, we hope they feel a sense of ownership and a stronger connection with the larger United Methodist family.” 

Spanish-language version of ResourceUMC.org, a site for United Methodist leaders, features content from across the denomination's agencies and entities to share Spanish-language materials on one platform.

Highlighting Ministry Tracks resources designed to communicate multiple accreditation processes for leaders, Aileen Jimenez, Senior Manager of Hispanic/Latino Leader Communications, praised the spirit of collaboration among agencies that has emerged from creating content in Spanish. ResourceUMC is not only producing original content in Spanish but "creating a virtual space 'at the table' for aggregated content in different languages so that they are easily accessible," said Jimenez. Examples of Spanish language material include: sharing inspirational reflections/prayershighlighting diverse leadership, and communications content.

For Korean leaders, CheonEui Oh, Manager of Asian/Korean Leader Communications, said, "We have tried to provide practical, relevant and up-to-date Korean resources from online worship equipment, copyright, worship and even racism." For example, Virtual hybrid or outdoor 2021 VBS and 7 reasons you must not abandon your online services

As for social media, content is targeted for the audiences speaking the various languages also: Korean ChurchLa Iglesia Metodista Unida/ Servicio Metodista Unido de NoticiasL'Eglise Méthodiste Unie and Recursos Metodistas Unidos. Generación in Between is a social space on Facebook and Instagram specifically created for Hispanic/Latino seekers who straddle between their Latin American heritage and their American identity and culture. This content is provided in English, Spanish, and "Spanglish." Occasionally content is shared in Portuguese for the Brazilian audience in the U.S.

United Methodist Communications ads targeted to the Hispanic community direct viewers to landing pages with Spanglish copy. "As the demographic of the country changes, we continue to be mindful of the need to connect with different audiences contextually," said Poonam Patodia, Chief Marketing Officer. "Many local United Methodist churches are dedicating their ministries to meeting the needs of the growing Hispanic population within their communities. In our outreach campaign, we want to invite them in a way that connects with them organically, just as these churches want to."