A Solid Foundation | Wycliffe Bible Translators

A Solid Foundation

One woman’s journey to linguistics fieldwork in Asia

  • December 12, 2018

Amber wanted to be a missionary ever since she was young.

After getting her bachelor’s degree from the Canada Institute of Linguistics, Amber knew she wanted to be involved in Bible translation in Asia. She needed a graduate degree, but she didn’t want to stay in North America. So she enrolled in the Payap University master of arts in linguistics program in Thailand.

“My Payap education allowed me to obtain the necessary linguistic skills in the location of the world I wanted to work,” said Amber. “I wasn’t learning about a far off people or language — something halfway around the world in an obscure corner of the globe. ... I was studying languages that were right outside my door and sometimes even in the classroom with me! That is something a school in North America could not provide.”

The Payap University master of arts in linguistics program has celebrated 126 graduates over 29 years. About 60 percent of the graduates are individuals who want to pursue literacy or Bible translation work. Half of the students are from Asia.

While it’s recognized internationally, Payap’s goal for this program is to specifically prepare students for work in Asia. The rigorous coursework is conducted in English, but it is geared to second-language students, and the professors themselves have experience working around the world. Many students study at Payap in their third, fourth or fifth language!

Students who come to Payap from places outside of Asia often do so to study and conduct research on the field. Like Amber, they want to gain exposure to other cultures.

“You get real-life classroom examples,” said Christina Horney, program coordinator for the master’s in linguistics program. “When you’re doing phonetics — those sounds that you’re struggling with — your classmates know how to pronounce them because they’re in their own language. You have classmates from all five Southeast Asian language families.”

Amber began to apply her program’s coursework to the Lahu Si language. Upai, a fellow student from Thailand and speaker of a related Lahu language, was asked to assist Amber for a summer. But their partnership has continued beyond just that summer: Amber and Upai got married after graduation and translated the Lahu Si New Testament together!

“The program offered a holistic training for Bible translation,” said Upai, “and for other related work such as translation program management, survey, field linguistics, and literacy program development. It was unique in that it focused on the practical side of linguistics in a way that complemented translation work. My professors were all active workers with years of experience in the field of their expertise. You are learning with professionals who really know what they are teaching.”

Students receive, as Amber put it, “a solid, and practical, foundation in linguistics” they can apply in Asia or around the world.

“My Payap education prepared me to go out and translate the New Testament for the Lahu Si people,” said Amber. “It also gave me the resources to know where to find answers or solutions to problems that arose while I was working on the Lahu Si translation project — and not only how to find the answers but understand the answers and apply them.”

If you'd like to learn more about graduate work in linguistics, contact go_serve@wycliffe.org. Our team is ready to talk with you about options, including Payap University in Thailand!