Survey

Of the more than 6,900 reported languages in the world today, several thousand of them still need to be researched. Survey is foundational to translation work and shows where the need is most critical. As surveyors research and later travel to towns and villages, listening to and recording different languages and their dialects, they gather information about factors that will affect the translation process, such as:

History

Has previous work been done to document or study the language? What information is available on the Internet or in libraries? Has anyone tried doing translation before? What were the results?

Location

How remote is the area, and what type of logistics and transportation would be required to bring outsiders to and from the language group or to bring local translators out to training opportunities?

Impact

How many people speak this language, what are their ages, and what impact could a Bible translation bring to this area and the surrounding areas? If a Bible translation project was started today, would people still be using the language when it was completed?

Partners

Who else is interested in Bible translation or more generally in the development of this language? Which local, national, regional, or international organizations would be interested in working together?

Security

Is the region relatively stable or are there factors that will continually threaten a project? Is the area hostile to Christianity? Will the government grant visas for foreigners to work on translation in the language area, or will their involvement need to happen in other creative ways?

Language and social complexity

How complex is the language? Is it tonal, meaning that the pitch used to say a word can completely change the meaning? What is the grammar structure? What is the attitude of speakers of different languages in the area toward each other? Are there language varieties that are more prestigious than others? Are there factors that would mean it would make sense for different language teams to work together in a cluster approach?

Requests

Have local churches requested translation for certain languages? Are there already people receptive and ready for a Bible translation?

Multilingual

Does everyone in the community adequately speak and understand another language that already has a Bible translation, so much so that they may not need a translation in their primary language? Do they use that second language only for everyday conversation and business purposes, or can they also use it to discuss deep spiritual concepts? Does the Bible already available in the second language meet their spiritual needs, or do they still need one in their primary language?

By studying the information gathered by language surveyors, governments, missions, churches, and non-governmental organizations, Wycliffe can make good decisions as to where to allocate resources for translation and literacy work in cooperation with partners.

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Road to Transformation

The Bible translation process can be loosely compared to a roadmap of checkpoints. While each language project is unique, this map helps to simplify an otherwise complex process for the purpose of illustration.

Steps of Translation

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Gateway

In cases where a community is not already interested in Bible translation, a gateway project can help raise awareness and open closed doors. Literacy classes, healthcare, and a number of other practical helps are tangible ways to demonstrate love and build relationships with the community and its local government officials. When they see that someone sincerely cares about them, they are more likely to consider and even grant assistance to a Bible translation project.

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Language Development

Translators need a good understanding of how target language works, and local speakers need skills and resources to use their language in new ways (like reading the Bible). Language specialists can help analyze and document language structures, and develop resources like orthographies (writing systems), practical grammars (descriptions of how to form grammatical sentences), dictionaries, and literacy materials.

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Timesavers

Traditionally, the average Bible translation took about twenty-five years to complete, but if trained people, resources, and language development are already in place, some of the initial steps happen much quicker and allow the team to get right to the translation phase. The translation step itself is also enhanced when teams have access to the latest technology or can operate in cluster projects—a method where translators from similar languages work together to complete multiple translations at once. We're excited that these methods have been accelerating the pace of Bible translation more than ever before in human history!

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Translation

Translation teams include speakers of the language, along with outside translation specialists. Together they carefully study the original Greek and Hebrew text, specialized translation commentaries, and the local linguistic and cultural context. The team uses special software programs to create trial portions of the text, and then they have it checked by consultants and tested by communities for clarity and accuracy, tediously going through numerous drafts and revisions until it is ready for publication.

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Community Development

Translating Scripture takes place in a larger context of holistic, transformational development. Literacy and education form a big part of this picture. Translators might help create primers, educational curriculum, and booklets addressing crucial issues such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, agriculture, maternal health, and clean water. They may also partner with others who specialize in crucial aspects of community development.

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Publishing

Once the text of a translation is finalized, it can be published in a variety of ways. Traditionally, there's usually been a printed version, in which case translators will work with a typesetter to lay out and format the text so it can be given to a printing company. The translation team may also ask one of our partners (such as Faith Comes By Hearing, MegaVoice, YouVersion, and the “JESUS” film) to produce audio, video, or digital versions of the Scripture. In the case of signed languages, the Scripture itself will be in video form.

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Roadblocks

Translation projects can get put on hold if a team member becomes sick or dies or if the area the team is working in suffers instability or natural disaster. A drop in financial support will also slow down or stop a project until sufficient funds can be raised. Wycliffe translators find that roadblocks tend to increase in amount and intensity as they get close to finishing a Bible translation. If you'd like to pray for translation projects within three years of completion, go to the Finish Line publication for more information.

Distribution

Once the Scriptures have been published in the form of a book, audio player, or DVD, they'll get placed on board a ship, plane, vehicle, or some other form of transportation headed in the direction of the language group. If necessary, a local agent will be responsible for getting the Bibles through customs and transported to their final destination. Digital Scripture versions can either be placed on a website for people to download or be transferred via cell phone or other storage devices. The community often plans an event to publicize, celebrate, and distribute the new Scripture.

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Scripture Engagement

Scripture engagement workers develop creative ways to help people understand and integrate God's Word into their daily lives. This can take the form of Bible study curriculum, skits, ethnomusicology (composing Scripture songs in local music styles), trained Bible storytellers, radio programs, or video lessons on Scriptural truths. Two Scripture-based studies, in particular, have been highly effective for many people groups–Healing the Wounds of Trauma for those who have suffered tragedy like war or natural disaster and Kande's Story for communities facing HIV/AIDS.

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Transformation

As communities receive and understand God's Word clearly for the first time, lives can change in dramatic ways. Many find freedom from harmful addictions and longstanding conflicts. When communities realize that they matter to God—that He speaks their language—their personal relationships begin to reflect God's love. And as people find dignity, along with new knowledge and education, they can overcome poverty. The Church can be established or strengthened and the Scriptures can be used to make disciples who will share Christ with new communities! Click here for stories about individuals and whole communities who have been transformed by God's Word.

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