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Translation Day: 5 things you probably didn’t know about Bible translation


Wednesday 30 September 2015

It’s a wonderful day when a community gets the Bible, or part of it, in its own language. We can all share in the joy of God’s Word finally really ‘speaking’ to the people who are receiving it. But have you ever stopped to think about what has made that special day possible? Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about Bible translation.

1: It’s about local people

Translation that is both accurate and truly reflects the needs of its audience is a highly skilled, painstaking business. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s only the preserve of experts. Today, Bible translation is being carried out across the world by people whose greatest asset is their command of their own language. With the right training and support (a key priority for our Global Bible Translation team) they are making translations that will ‘speak’ to their own people.

2. It’s about local feedback

Translators don’t just lock themselves away for years at a time. They remain active members of their communities and use their networks to obtain feedback about the work in progress. There are formal feedback processes built in to translation projects as well. All this means that Bible engagement by the local community is part of the entire translation project, not just something that happens when it is complete. It also ensures that when a translation is finally published, it will be accepted and ‘owned’ by its community.

3. It’s (increasingly) about technology

Working on the trial edition of the Mongolian New Testament.

Working on the trial edition of the Mongolian New Testament.

Even in the remotest situations, Bible translators rarely work these days without computers and access to online resources. In Papua New Guinea, mobile phone signals reach communities which are still almost inaccessible by road! In many projects, solar panels help to overcome unpredictable electricity supplies. The majority use specialised software developed by United Bible Societies which allows translators to look up reference materials and send their work for checking by consultants not based locally. All this is helping to speed up the delivery of finished translations.

4. It’s about flexibility

No two translation projects are the same. Each one is set up differently and each one takes a different length of time. There’s a huge amount of variation in factors like the level of education of the translators, the time they can devote to the project and the reference materials available. So flexibility is essential. This is true at the beginning of the project (Which books should be translated first? Which source texts are the best to use?) and at every stage until completion. Anything from natural disasters to illness can force changes to a project at any time.

5. It’s not just about print

A Bible translation project doesn’t necessarily aim to produce only a printed Bible, or even one at all. Where literacy levels in a community are very low, for example, audio is likely to be a better solution. Or what about a translation to be read online? Non-print products require different approaches to translation. What ‘works’ in print doesn’t necessarily have the same impact in another medium.

Reading the Khmer Bible on devices in Cambodia.

Reading the Khmer Bible on devices in Cambodia.

Huge strides are being made in Bible translation, but there’s still a lot to do! There are nearly 7,000 languages in the world, and there is no Scripture at all in over 4,000 of them. Please pray for Bible translation around the world, that more and more people will experience the joy of God ‘speaking’ to them in their own language.

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Top image: The Shilluk people of South Sudan were overjoyed to have the New Testament in their language in April 2013.

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