Translation of Service Materials

An article written for the NA Way Magazine by members of the former WSC PI Committee in the summer of 1997. We present this here as a historical document of where we were in 1997 and the challenges we faced.

Translation of Service Materials

We are becoming what once we only dreamed of, truly a world-wide fellowship. By bringing our message of recovery to addicts throughout the world, in their own language, we do more for the individual addict than we can even imagine. But what of those emerging NA communities that are separated by language from others in the service structure of NA? Clearly there is a need for translation of service material. But how were we to communicate this need at the WSC? WSC PI and WSC H&I leadership decided to host a roundtable discussion on this need at the Development Forum. This forum was created to allow members of developing NA communities to ask questions and communicate their needs to the World level trusted servants. This event served as an opportunity for WSC PI and WSC H&I to begin an ongoing dialog on this topic of translating service materials.

Our primary goal for this discussion was to raise the Fellowships awareness about the need for translated service materials, what the current situation of this challenge and how the Fellowship’s trusted servants could respond to this need¾ especially in reference to those materials used by Public Information and Hospitals & Institution committees.

In attendance at this round-table discussion were the RSRs from developing NA communities, whose members ranged from Europe to South America, the Pacific Rim and Asia. Attending from World Services were the leadership for WSC PI and WSC H&I, the WSC Translations Committee, and World Service Office staff. We found this event to be well attended with great interest by many of the DF participants. The DF members were able to express their needs and concerns. World-level trusted servants were able to share what is being done, what can be done, and how best to proceed.

We found the discussions we held to be both stimulating and helpful in building unity among us. We found the participants to have a strong commitment to this need. Both WSC PI and the WSC H&I committees were very grateful for the participation of all involved. We wish to extend our thanks to all those who contributed to this discussion.

This article continues many of the main points covered during the discussion and some additional information included in materials passed out at the event along with the input received from the WSC PI Committee. Please use this article as informational and share it with others interested in this challenge for the Fellowship.

Why does service material need to be translated?

  • NA is a worldwide fellowship and there is a many members that do not speak or read English.
  • In some locations, materials need to be translated for cultural reasons as well.
  • When we don’t have service material translated we don’t get the benefit of other trusted servant’s experience, strength and hope. Without that experience committees make the same mistakes that others already made.
  • With language barriers, local committees have little or no communication links with the WSC and its subcommittees, or with the World Service Office. Written materials are needed to make and enhance that link.

When is an NA community ready for service material translation?

  • Translation of recovery material is a first priority. Without recovery material, addicts will struggle in their efforts to recover in NA. Once addicts have recovery materials, they can turn their attention to translating service materials.
  • Each local fellowship will decide for itself when it is ready to translate service material.

Who works on translating service materials?

Local fellowships translate service materials.

  • Often it is the work of professional translators or trusted servants that have sufficient time and energy to devote to the project.
  • Service materials are rarely translated by a committee, although we hope that those working on the project will work under the guidance of an established committee.
  • The WSC Translations Committee works on recovery, not service, materials.
  • WSO staff does not assist with translation of service materials, but does keep records of materials that have been submitted.

What procedures are best for translating service materials?

  • Before recovery or service material is translated, a glossary of NA terms needs to be established so we can maintain the integrity of the NA message through clarity of language. For many languages, a glossary has already been developed. You can obtain a copy from your local translations committee, or contact the World Service Office. Ask for the person responsible for translations.
  • Make sure those involved in the translation efforts are part of the service structure locally and working to translate the materials most important to the local committees.
  • Don’t divert the attention of the local translations committee that is focused on recovery literature. That committee may be able to help you start a service-literature translation committee, or direct you to one that already exists.
  • Contact the World Service Office to determine if any material has already been translated by another committee and sent to the office. The office does not manufacture or produce translated service material at this time, but it does keeps records of work done by local committees and will send the material to you upon request. Although a list is kept at the office, it is not published because it is changing so rapidly.
  • Contact the World Service Office to see if there are other committees working on translating material into your language. Your committee may be able to correspond with other committees, combine your knowledge and skills, and divide the work to accomplish more.
  • Make sure to let your local translations committee and the World Service Office know what you are working on so other interested members can join you in that effort.
  • In addition, the World Services Translations Committee released three resource papers that address many of the issues faced by translations committees and how they are overcome. These resource papers are very informative about the normal process for translating recovery material. They can however be applied to a local translation committee dedicated to translating service material. Please contact the WSO for copies of these resource papers.

What PI and H&I service material should be translated?

This too is at the discretion of the local fellowship. The WSC PI and WSC H&I committees have developed abbreviated documents derived from their guides and handbooks specifically for translation. These documents are a short version of the full handbook and will help get a new committee started. The WSC PI’s piece is titled, “Basic Guide to Public Information and the WSC H&I’s piece is titled, ”

After the Basic Guides have been translated and service committees are functioning, the committee may want to translate all or part of the H&I, PI, and Phoneline Handbooks. Please note that the PI and Phoneline Handbooks are currently undergoing major revisions by the WSC PI committee and this would not be a good time to start translating the entire existing Guides. However you may translate portions of these Guides for single projects (examples of “sunshine letters, public service announcements, etc.).

For Public Information committees, not only do the service handbooks need to be translated, but also the materials sent to professionals. Some of the materials used with professionals might already be translated by your local translations committee because the PI committee uses recovery literature. Some of the most often used pamphlets are:

  • The Little White Book
  • IP #1 – Who, What, How and Why
  • IP #7 – Am I an Addict?

Other materials used with the public include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous – A Resource in Your Community (Booklet #1604 from the World Service Office)
  • Facts About Narcotics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous – A Commitment to Community Partnership
  • Narcotics Anonymous and Harm Minimization

Note: “Facts About Narcotics Anonymous”, “Narcotics Anonymous – A Commitment to Community Partnership” and Narcotics Anonymous and Harm Minimization Strategies, are documents written for professionals by World Services for use at international events. They are excellent sources of material for presentations or answering questions about NA to professionals.

What discretion does the local fellowship have in adapting materials to local laws and customs?

  • There are no written guidelines for translating service materials although there is guidance on translating recovery material.
  • Some of the procedures may seem strange at first and the temptation is to change the process to what the committee believes will work locally. We hope the local committee will at least try the methods suggested in the existing service materials before adapting it to local customs. The suggestions in the service materials have worked for many committees and may work better than you think. Use common sense when attempting to adapt these materials to your local language and cultural needs.
  • Some of the procedures or projects used in the United States cannot be used in other countries because of different legal systems. NA service committees need to be aware of the local laws and adapt the procedures accordingly. WSC committees may be able to share with you alternatives that have been working with other countries with similar legal systems.

How do we find out more about service and translations?

  • Contact the World Service Office, ask for the person responsible for translations.
  • Contact members of the World Service Committees. You can be directed to these people by calling the World Service Office, Fellowship Services.
  • Contact the World Service Office Fellowship services for answer or help with many basic issues.
  • Contact your area, regional, or national committees and ask if anyone is working on translations.

Developing NA communities have the same needs as new NA communities in English speaking countries have. What they lack is the availability of the experience, strength and hope collected in our present service materials written in English. The challenges faced by the DF participants can be overcome in time. But when? Can their PI & H&I committees grow without access to this valuable experience? Yes, but very slowly with a lot of frustration!

The important part of this round-table discussion was that it sharpened the awareness of this Fellowship at the world level of service of the need for translated service material. We began the dialog needed to accomplish this goal in the future. In the end, we found through our discussions that sometimes there are no definitive answers to the questions we have. Like our personal program, we have to venture into new territory to fulfill our Higher Power’s will for us. We hope that with your courage and our support, we will change the future for the addicts who serve Narcotics Anonymous with the experience, strength and hope that our service material can give us.

Bosse A, Swedish Region

Cynthia E, Northern California Region

Editor’s Note: Bosse A died clean in 2006. He was a valuable member of the WSC PI Committee; his candor, humor and smile is sorely missed by his friends and the NA Fellowship.


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