Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Not too remote

Friday, January 16th, 2015

A recent letter from a colleague in Tanzania reads, ‘Pray we would be able to secure funding to start the translation of the Kisi, Manda and Pangwa New Testaments.’  Wondering what had provoked this request, I decided to investigate.

Pangwa Team membersI discovered that whilst translation work has been happening in Mbeya in several related languages since 2003 using a cluster approach* Kisi and Pangwa have not been developed nor had any Scripture published. Manda did have a translation published in 1937 but it is no longer available or adequate for the needs of the community, since the language has changed so much since then.

The need for translation in Kisi, Manda and Pangwa has been clear since sociolinguistic surveys were done in 2002, but the communities are remote and too far from Mbeya where workshops for ten other languages were being held. It simply wasn’t possible for the Kisi, Manda and Pangwa languages to be part of that cluster project.

The good news is that from 2012 workshops have been held for these 3 languages to help them develop a writing system. The district capital, Ludewa, was used as the hub for these workshops. This has worked to an extent, but the Manda, and particularly the Kisi, find travel to Ludewa a challenge, as there are no direct roads from the lake shore up the steep escarpment to Ludewa town. While some Kisi and Manda have made the 8-hour walk up the mountains for workshops, it has become clear that Ludewa is not a viable centre for a language development project involving the Kisi and Manda.

The work that has been done is appreciated by the Kisi. Language development has demonstrated to them that their community and language are valued by the outside world:

‘We don’t have any roads or phone network, and the only motor vehicles we have are boats, but to see these Kisi calendars makes us so happy that our language is being developed!’

However without committed funding, personnel with translation expertise, and creative solutions to the geographical issues faced by these projects, they cannot move forward and start translation.

Please pray:

  • That funding applications will be successful and that God will provide all the necessary finances needed to start translation in these 3 languages.
  • For planning meetings in February that God will give wisdom and guidance in planning for translation to start in these projects
  • For the right personnel to become available to serve the communities as translation advisors and consultants

Find out in this 3 minute video the Big Things God is doing in Bible translation in Tanzania.

*A language cluster refers to languages that may be linguistically related, and/or from similar geographic regions or cultural backgrounds. Speakers of these languages work together, sharing expertise, training and resources, to develop their languages and work on translation into each language.

For unto you a multilingual son is born

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, however, unless you have an insatiable passion for linguistics, we probably don’t think about the different languages and dialects that were in use around Bethlehem when Jesus was born. As it turns out, there are more similarities to the multicultural environments we find ourselves in today than we may have considered.

In an interesting article for the Ethnologue, M. Paul Lewis sheds some light on the multilingual society Jesus was born in to.

The world into which Jesus was born was (and is still) a multilingual one. Jesus, no doubt, grew up navigating a language ecology that included at least four languages:  Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Bible tells us that he read from the Hebrew scriptures and it is probable that his conversation with Pontius Pilate at his trial was at least partially conducted in Latin.

Christians believe that in Jesus, God took on human form. That He became a multilingual man is only one of the ways, but an important way, in which that identification with humanity is fully demonstrated.

Have a read of the full article: For unto you a multilingual son is born.

Our God is a multilingual God, but there are still people who do not know this as a reality. That is why it is our vision that, together with partners worldwide, we aim to see a Bible translation programme begun in all the remaining languages that need one. (Find out more about Wycliffe).

God speaks in your language. In what way is God communicating to you as we enter into this Christmas period?

If you feel a prompting to mission, why not check out one of our First Steps events taking place in the new year? (and you don’t have to be a linguist). There are also plenty of other ways you can get involved, have a look.


Thinking outside the box

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Sometimes we consider the needs around the world and feel overwhelmed. Maybe we even consider how we can go and make a difference and then doubt that the skills we have would be useful.

Here are the stories of two British teachers who instead of going overseas to be teachers, used their teaching skills to make a difference as literacy specialists.

Barbara tells us:

img87‘I spent over twenty years as a teacher in London. Later I became an advisory teacher leading in-service courses for teachers. Helping children, young people and adults to develop and enjoy using their literacy skills was one of the best aspects of my different roles.

When, in 2002, I stood in front of 25 educators as a literacy specialist, I had had the year-long Wycliffe training in which Literacy was one of the components. However, in order to facilitate the development of a mother tongue education programme I leaned heavily on the experiences I gained from teaching. I used the skills I developed through teaching to help participants to develop their writing ability in the mother tongue and to write stories that would appeal to new and developing readers. Some of those stories became books now being used in schools.’

In contrast, Liz’s story goes like this:

‘I was a teaching assistant (TA) with primary school children for two years before my husband and I went to work in a project in South West Tanzania as literacy workers. There were many differences between my TA work in Sheffield and literacy work in Tanzania, as you can imagine!

In Tanzania I was primarily focused on a Basic Literacy programme with preschool children. I was mainly involved in preparing resources and training teachers to deliver them, rather than interacting with the children themselves as I had done previously. However, I used many of the same skills; preparing lessons and working out how to use the resources available to engage children with literacy. Most importantly, my aims were ultimately the same and I was excited about enabling children to reach their full potential and all the opportunities being literate would open up for them, not least to be able to read the Word of God.’

Please join us as we pray:

  • For God to call many to literacy work, especially those who already have transferable skills.
  • For those who are actively considering if God is calling them to work overseas with Wycliffe. Some of those will be attending First Steps events early next year. Pray they will clearly know what God is calling them to.

See where in the world you could go to make a difference as a literacy specialist.

Christmas Appeal – God’s Quiet Revelation

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Our Christmas appeal has launched! In it we tell the story of Fatima*, a young Muslim woman, living with her family in Mindanao in the Philippines.

By her own admission, she used to be an angry person and would often act disrespectfully towards her parents. In 2001 she came across portions of the New Testament translations in her own language and for more than nine years continued to read portions of Mark and Luke’s Gospels alongside a major language translation.

“I would read in secret because my parents would get very angry with me if they caught me reading the Bible. One time my mother saw me and forbade me to continue reading.”

Anonymous Muslim worshippers After many years of secretly reading God’s word and seeking the truth of who he really is, he quietly revealed himself to her as she read the words of Jesus, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For the first time she understood that Jesus is not just a Prophet, he is Christ the Lord—and she came to know him as her Saviour.

For Fatima, the transforming power of God’s word in her own language is both personal and dynamic.

“I just live in the way that his word teaches me to live, that’s what attracts my Muslim friends to think differently, even as I have. The change in me is the greatest testimony to the power of God and the truth of his word”.

The dedication and perseverance of the translation team working in her language has been amazing, continuing in their ministry in an Islamic context for so long before they saw the first fruit of their labour. 29 years after the project began, Fatima became the first to believe in her language community. Today her mother and sister are among the growing group of believers who are quietly beginning to form a small church.

The vision of Wycliffe remains steadfast. We want everyone in the world to have access to the Bible in the language they understand best, and are working with partners worldwide to see a Bible translation programme begun in every remaining language that needs one.

Will you make a special financial gift to Wycliffe this Christmas? A gift of just £10 could translate a single verse and change someone’s life forever. Give now.


*name changed for security reasons


Well Nourished Roots

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

How often do we actively engage with God’s word? Every day? A couple of times a week?

Scripture engagement is essential for Christians to grow into spiritual maturity. In an interesting blog post on Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer explores Scripture engagement and its impact on our lives as Christians, both individually and corporately. You can read the article in full here.

notes on an open Bible

“Engaging the Bible impacts one’s spiritual maturity more than any other discipleship attribute.” – Ed Stetzer

This article highlights the very real and essential need for Scripture to be easily accessible for us to read. But what about those who do not have God’s word in their mother tongue?

The latest statistics suggest that there are in the region of 180 million people who still don’t have any access to the Bible in their heart language. However, God is at work in amazing ways.  In Tanzania, Daniel shares his reaction to using the Scriptures in the language he knows best:

“I was trying to read the Kuria New Testament like I read Swahili. I was unable to read the Scriptures at all. But now that I’ve been taught how to read the Kuria writing system, I can understand it completely! Now I can read God’s word in my language!”

Find out more about Wycliffe and how you can be involved.

Favourite verses around the world

Monday, September 15th, 2014

The GMI Missiographics team share another eye-opening infographic with us, this time exploring how people around the world are searching the Bible, based on stats from

Global Bible Searches - What Are They Searching For?

Global Bible Searches – What Are They Searching For?

There are some favourites of mine here, featuring across national borders, such as John 1, our introduction to Jesus, the Word of God.  There’s also the chapter about Love in 1 Corinthians 13, and the famous ‘song for the sheep’ in Psalm 23.

But Missiographics leave us some challenging questions about this snapshot. For example,

‘In Pakistan and Nigeria, all of the top 5 searches are from the Old Testament.’

‘If many searches in your country of interest are Old Testament searches, how are you weaving the Old Testament into your presentation of the gospel?’

Of all the languages in the world, only 513 have the entire Bible.  Most languages, if they have any Scripture at all, have just the New Testament, or maybe some portions of the Old.

We recently wrote about Nigeria, which has the largest need for Bible translation in Africa, with a total of 520 languages, 250 of which have no known Scripture.

So when starting a new translation project, where would you start? Would you start by translating John 3:16, because it’s your favourite verse?

Often, rural communities relate strongly to Old Testament stories rooted in pastoral culture, so it might make sense to start translating portions of the Old Testament, rather than diving straight into the New Testament gospels.  Who gets to decide?  The stats here seem to show there’s a hunger in Nigeria for the Psalms!

Decisions like these are not simple to make, and are part of a process of the language community working together with national translators and ex-pat colleagues to set project priorities.  Some books are easier to translate linguistically, like Jonah.  Some are really hard because of complex themes or ‘key terms’ used, like ‘redemption’ or ‘sin’.

But the challenge remains.  If there is no Scripture at all in the language you understand best, would you have a favourite Bible verse at all?

  • The Life of a Language Project explains some of the stages a in project, even before the first word is translated.
  • You can be involved in ensuring that those without any Scripture can have a favourite verse of their own.

God loves you with all his bowels

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Jeremiah 31 tells us that God’s heart longs for his people. Or, at least, most English translations do. Many also have a little footnote that tells us the Hebrew says that God longs from his bowels.

If the translators had opted for ‘bowels’, this message may not have been good news to many English speakers.  Communicating good news requires some knowledge of the culture.

Photo via Wycliffe Global Alliance

Timothy* works in South East Asia, where there is a large Buddhist population. He says that John 3:16 (‘whoever believes in him… shall have eternal life‘) is a verse that communicates the gospel most clearly to many English speakers –  but it doesn’t communicate good news to Buddhists.

“Buddhists believe that we are all trapped in a cycle of reincarnation — one life after another, each full of suffering. Thus, Buddhists feel like they already have eternal life, and their big goal is to escape the eternal life and all the suffering that goes along with it.”

Richard Gretsky explains…

Because of that, a verse that has meant so much to so many people is a potentially dreadful proposition to people coming from a Buddhist worldview. This, of course, doesn’t mean that John 3:16 shouldn’t be translated for Buddhists. They, like all of us, need to understand that eternal life is good and that life can exist without suffering. But it does highlight that we should know which verses speak the best to people of different cultures.

With that in mind, there is another verse, also in the book of John, which does speak deeply to Buddhists…

Read on to find out what verse Timothy picks as a clear, good news verse for Buddhists.

Wycliffe believes that the Bible – God’s message to humanity – has something life-changing to say to everyone, and want everyone to have access to God’s word in a language they understand. If you do too, there are lots of ways you can be involved in Bible translation.

* name changed to protect identity

* Names have been changed to protect identities

Issues facing Scripture films

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Taste and see that the Lord is good! Watching a Bible-based film in your own language is a wonderful way to see how good the Lord is.

Watching the JESUS Film

Watching the JESUS Film

Among the most used Bible-based films are the JESUS Film and the Luke Film, which are both based on the Gospel of Luke. If a team’s already done the translation work on Luke, what could be more obvious than recording the translation and dubbing it onto a film? Of course, it’s much easier said than done!

This prayer request, from Guyana in South America, highlights a handful of the problems you might face…

When preparing for the dubbing of the Luke video or other Scripture, many challenges arise. How do you choose the right person to read the words of Jesus, Mary, or Paul? How do you get verses that take 45 seconds to read in the local language down to the 30 seconds used in the English version of the film? How many practice times are necessary for the readers to learn to read with expression and clarity?

The team are in the process of preparing the script and casting people to read the parts for the film. Stand with them in prayer.

One thing that would make the process much easier is if enthusiastic people joined the team – people who are passionate about film and about sharing God’s word: wherever you long to serve God, there is a need for people with these passions and skills so that more people can hear Jesus speak their language. Find out about ways to explore roles with Wycliffe.

What makes me me? These answers might surprise you

Monday, June 30th, 2014

What makes me who I am? The answer to that question is bound up in where I live, what I do, what I wear, what I eat and, yes, what language I speak. It even affects how I feel about myself.

Wycliffe member Matt has been asking this question too. He tells us how people answered this question at a discussion he was at, and what that has to do with working with minority communities:

At one of our community of practice events last year we asked participants that very question: What makes you part of your ethnolinguistic group? These were some of the responses:

And so what? Why does this matter? Well, what would happen if those factors were suddenly no longer around? What if you couldn’t live in a certain place, eat a certain food, wear certain clothes, speak a certain language? Would you still feel connected to others who have similar features? Would you still be you?

These are the kinds of questions many marginalised communities around the world are having to face right now. Key elements that make up who they are, are being challenged, looked down upon, outlawed and even destroyed. Their traditional ways of celebrating, their traditional foods, the language they speak, and often the very land they live on is changing and they must decide how to respond.

At its heart, this is what we are working to support. To help communities who have been looked down upon and devalued, to define their own identity and to be proud of it.

Go to Matt and Liz’s blog to read the whole post. If you’re passionate about what they are doing, you can join this work by supporting them.

Find out more about how Wycliffe works with marginalised communities.

What language did Jesus speak?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Many of the challenges of Bible translation, in English and in other languages, come down to the fact that it’s not just languages that are different. Cultures are too. Wycliffe’s UK director Eddie has been pondering this lately, after being asked about Jesus and languages.

It isn’t often that I get called in to referee an argument between the Pope and the Israeli Prime Minister, but last week, I was interviewed by our local radio station about what language Jesus spoke. In what was a pleasant chat, I gave the generally accepted answer, that he probably spoke a number of languages; Aramaic in every day situations, Hebrew in religious contexts and perhaps some Greek or Latin.

However, what I really wanted to say was that Jesus did not speak English!

Whatever those Sunday school posters might indicate, Jesus was not a blue-eyed, Englishman. He was a first century Jew and his life and teachings are rooted in the history of his nation. Right down to which languages he spoke in particular situations. If we try to take Jesus out of his historical, linguistic and cultural setting we will fail to fully understand his teaching or the significance of his life, death and resurrection.

But – and this is amazing – Jesus does speak English!

Because the Gospels have been translated, we can read and hear Jesus’ words in contemporary English. This is so much a part of our lives that we don’t fully appreciate the strange wonder of it. The two-thousand year old story, rooted in Jewish life and culture, can be read and understood in modern English and in thousands of other languages for that matter. Though Jesus was a Rabbi, who lived in a particular context, his message is for all peoples in all times. It’s a simple fact, but a wonderful one.

Through Bible translation, Wycliffe and partners are trying to share that message with all peoples around the world. You can be involved by giving, praying, considering an job with Wycliffe or sharing the need with your community.

This post has been edited. The original appeared on Eddie’s blog; read it here.