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.

Language development is about developing skills and resources to use a language in new ways. This could mean compiling dictionaries or producing reading materials. It may include designing or standardizing a writing system. Many of the languages Wycliffe works with have never been written down—they have only been spoken. In order to translate the Bible, trained linguists may start out by analyzing and documenting a language's phonetics (sounds) and phonology (sound patterns), as well as its morphology (word composition), syntax (sentence composition), and more.

Pieces of a Language

The human vocal tract can make several hundred distinct sounds that are used for communication in various languages. American English speakers recognize a little over forty of these sounds. There are only twenty-six letters in our alphabet, so many of those sounds are represented by combinations of letters (such as "th"). Context also plays an important role. For example, in English the "c" in "cat" is pronounced differently than the first "c" in "circle."

Some languages also use different tones to convey meaning. Stress and emphasis also have potential to change a word's meaning. One example in English is the word "convict," which can either be a noun or a verb, depending on where you place the emphasis. All these variations make it difficult for outsiders to learn the rules of a new language. And if there weren't books and materials already available in that language, it would be even harder. The linguist's job is to discover all those nuances!

Establishing a Writing System

After analyzing the language, linguists can help a community determine how they want to write their language. Writing systems not only represent sounds, but they also represent the identity of a social group. Does the language community want an alphabet or script that is similar to other languages in the area so that it will be easier to learn how to read and write in those languages as well? Or do they prefer a system that by its very look clearly distinguishes them from surrounding languages? Sometimes the practical question of whether they have typewriters or computers will determine what symbols are easily available for them to use. Orthography development can be aided by knowledge of psycholinguistics and reading theory so that the written forms that will be chosen will be easy for people to learn to read and write.

Communication is enhanced when standard ways of writing and spelling, and standard terms for specialized vocabulary, are agreed upon and used within a speech community. In some cases, a standard simply develops. In other cases, the community identifies an agency, committee, or "language academy" and gives it the responsibility to standardize language usage. As communities make decisions about alphabet symbols and spelling rules, these norms can be taught in schools and codified in grammar, spelling books, and dictionaries.

Watch a Story

See the Video

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

About Wycliffe

Find out more about Wycliffe Bible Translators and our work.

Share and Bookmark

Wycliffe Social Media


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.

Watch a Story

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.

Read More Watch a Story


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!

Watch a Story


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.

Read More Watch a Story

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.

Read More Watch a Story


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.

Read More Watch a Story


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.


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.

Read More Watch a Story

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.

Read More Watch a Story


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.

Read More Read More