Oral Bible Translation – What Does It Take?

For several years, a few mission organizations have been collaborating together to create some software that could be used to make oral Bible translation happen.  Render is now being trialed in several parts of the world to see how the process works.  Since all parts of the process are done orally – translation, team checking and revision, consultant checking, and recording, it is ideal for communities that operate predominantly in an oral realm.  As the SPES project has been watching Render develop over the last couple years, we have become very excited about the possibilities that it holds for small language groups in the East Sepik and Sandaun provinces of Papua New Guinea.

However, because Bible translation has been written, rather than oral, almost exclusively for decades, this new approach presents its own challenges.  Where will we find people who can come and help us run the Oral Bible Translation (OBT) workshops?  Ideally, these would be people who would feel comfortable switching from a written to an oral process or have received training in oral translation.  Could it be you or someone you know?

Our current staff does not have all the skill sets needed to lead the training.  We continue to pray and trust that God will lead people to us that have the needed skills to help Sepik language groups get God’s Word in a way that clearly speaks to them.  A few of these roles are crucial and without people to fill them, OBT cannot move forward.  The team in Wewak feels strongly that this is a natural next step for language groups who have already completed their Oral Bible Storytelling workshops.  Language groups continue to call and ask when they can begin the next step of translation work.  It is a struggle for us to not be able to tell them when the next steps will happen.

Could this be you?

Each morning, the Bible passage to be translated will be discussed during devotions.  Someone is needed who can help give a good understanding of what is being discussed in the passage from an exegetical perspective.  They would need to be able to check specific key terms and help the teams make sure they are translating those key components in an accurate and natural manner.

Another person is needed who can help the teams understand a bit of how their language works linguistically.  This is not as in-depth as it would be in a written setting.  Some of the details are not needed in the oral realm, like consistency of spelling and punctuation, since it is all recorded rather than written.  However, understanding some of how the grammar works, so that the passage can be translated naturally, rather than word-for-word from another translation will help the teams have translation that can be easily understood.

One translation consultant is needed for each language group.  In the initial pilot project, the current plan is to include three language groups.  The consultants would take the scripture portions that have been translated and go through them with the team to check for consistency of key terms, making sure nothing has been introduced that is not true to the Bible and to make sure that key items have not been omitted.  As they go through each passage, changes that are needed will be noted and fixed before the final recording is released for the communities to use.

Will you pray with us that God will provide the people needed to move this work forward?  If you or someone you know might be interested, please contact us by email or at our Facebook page.

1 Report from the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization Issue Group “Making Disciples of Oral Learners, page 4.

What is Render?

Recently Gary and Sam attended some meetings in Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands province.  Fred Madden, who works with The Seed Company, came to share about a different medium for doing translation.  Oral Bible Translation allows the translators to translate exclusively in an oral manner.

Using the Render software

Using the Render software

Oral Bible Translation works like this. Initially translators discuss any key words, phrases, or concepts that could be difficult to understand or tricky to translate.  Then they listen to a “chunk” of scripture such as a section of a story or a paragraph.  When they feel comfortable that they understand the portion of scripture, they figure out how to say the section in their heart language.  Speaking into a computer, they will then record the passage using some newly developed Render software that records all that is said. This is repeated until everyone is happy with the translation. Then it goes through a series of checks for accuracy and naturalness.  When the team is satisfied that the rough draft is good, it then goes to a consultant who will also add his or her comments orally on the computer and the team can make the needed corrections.

After all the needed changes have been made and the translators and consultants feel it communicates clearly, the recordings can be finalized.  When the recordings are ready, they can be placed on SD cards that can be inserted into mobile phones or use other electronic devices to listen to and engage with the translated scriptures.

As literacy rates are low in many of the language groups that SPES is engaging with, Oral Bible Translation seems like a good fit for at least some of these groups.  This type of approach would allow more people who know and understand their language, but not necessarily know how to write it, to be involved in the work. It also has a better chance of being used by more people in more places. However, this approach involves potentially more people and therefore more costs.  Pray for wisdom to know if this is the way we are to move forward.

Healing the Wounds of Trauma

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Two of the goals of the SPES project are training Papua New Guineans and partnerships. Currently we are engaged in both of those. Last year, we ran a Healing the Wounds of Trauma workshop in Wewak for people from various churches to get training in how to help others deal with past trauma and find healing in Christ. Earlier this year, we were asked if we would be willing to come and run four of these workshops for the Aitape West Translation Project (AWTP). The AWTP is currently working to translate Scripture for ten languages in the Sandaun province. Each year they run four weeks of workshops related to some type of Scripture Use activity. This year the focus is on trauma healing. Sam Smucker took two of the Papua New Guineans who received training here last year to help run these workshops, along with one other SIL trainer.

God has been doing some amazing things and we are encouraged to hear how the course is helping people. Here are a couple of the testimonies that were shared, translated from Tok Pisin into English.

One man shared:

Searching God's Word for answers to life's questions

Searching God’s Word for answers to life’s questions

“In this week long workshop, I learned many things about finding the road to heal pain and trauma in a church setting and in the community. The thing I rejoice in is that God’s Word was in all the lessons. I received and learned in the lessons that I always need to bring my pain and burdens to Jesus’ wooden cross. I really liked this course and I wish that this course lasted longer like 2 weeks.

For me personally, I learned two things that really helped me.

  1. I need to hear the worries and pain of those who are traumatized. I need to give my time to be with them and feel how they feel inside – it’s really important.
  2. All the time I need to help them bring all their worries and pain to God and lay them at the foot of Jesus’ wooden cross. God himself is the reason for all good things and he is always ready to hear and take our pain and burdens. So I feel that I need to help them draw close to God and give their pain and worries to God.”

One of the ladies who attended the second course shared:

“There were many things in this course that really helped me because I have carried my trauma for many years and I’ve tried to find ways to heal my trauma. I have great joy to be in this course and I feel that this burden or sore I’ve been carrying for a long time now has a way for me to slowly heal it until it is healed.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Everything taught at this course helped me and now it has opened the door for me to help heal my sore first and later help my brothers and sisters. This week was not in vain and it has begun to produce fruit in my life.

One thing I learned that really impacted me was how we could use God’s Word in every lesson to support all the topics taught. Now I feel that I have lots of work to help others to carry their pain and burdens to the wooden cross. Taking burdens to the wooden cross was a great way to help those who felt too ashamed or afraid to share in a big group.”

Pray with us that those attending would indeed find God’s healing from the many types of trauma they have experienced. As they find healing, may they go and share what they have learned with others who need to find healing in Christ as well.