Image of Pokot children with arms up high to answer a question during school class Pokot children are keen to learn

‘Globally 40 per cent of the [world] population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand.’

That’s a stunning statistic – and part of the introduction by UNESCO* to today’s International Mother Language Day. But it’s not all doom and gloom: UNESCO goes on to say, ‘progress is being made in multilingual education’. And Bible translation is playing an important part in this.

You only have to look at the literacy programme among the Pokot of Uganda to see how Bible translation is producing ripple effects in areas like education.

Such programmes chime strongly with the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day: ‘Multilingual education is a pillar of intergenerational learning’. As Wycliffe’s ripple effects of Bible translation video, says:

‘When people learn to read and write in their language, it means they can communicate in new ways, access technologies they have been cut off from, gain opportunities to get work, and learn their legal rights, making it harder for corrupt officials to abuse them and empowering women and girls. It means that parents can read the correct doses of medicines to give their children, and their children’s education is transformed.’

‘Our culture and language is loved by God’

Another aspect of the Day is celebrating and championing the differences in cultures and languages so they become stronger communities.

Bible translation is playing a key role in helping minority peoples to strengthen the use of their own languages. Local Bible translation teams, with people who serve with Wycliffe working alongside them, are ensuring that a language – and the people who speak it – are being given the best chance not just to survive but to thrive. The impact on a community’s identity is huge, as Rafael, a Roma man, says:

‘Having God’s word in our Romani language is a vital expression of the fact that we are precious in God’s sight, and that our culture and language is loved by God.’

The acceleration that is happening in Bible translation could be a key factor. This past year, 370 new translation programmes were begun at the rate of over one a day. Of the 7,396* languages used in the world right now, half (3,689) currently have work in progress.

Many of these are languages spoken by the most marginalised peoples in the world. Bible translation is playing a vital role in helping these communities to hold onto their language and culture.

Passionate and committed

Many of the languages with work currently in progress are at the very beginning of the translation process – recording the oral language or starting to write it down.

Image of two Ilchamus women reading their Ilchamus New Testament Reading the Ilchamus New Testament for the first time

After this initial effort, the work of translating the Bible often provides the impetus for the community to keep going. Bible translation teams are passionate about translating the Scriptures, and committed to fulfilling the task. It gives the community the nuts and bolts of their language – and enables people to hear and read the life-giving message of God’s word.

Examples include the Contemporary Wolof and Standard Romani translations. The people get their language and the Scriptures together, meeting not just their physical and societal needs but their spiritual needs too.

The impact of God’s word in your own language was summed up beautifully at the launch of the Ilchamus New Testament:

‘As the community receives the word of God in their language today, may it become a light to their feet for a great spiritual, social and economic transformation.’

Image of Tado women in Indonesia with their copies of the Tado New Testament Tado women holding their Tado New Testaments

Bringing transformation

The arrival of Bible translation in so many of the most marginalised communities is a key element in helping UNESCO’s hopes ‘to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others’.

The impact that God’s word has was summed up at the launch of the Tado New Testament:

‘The introduction of the word of God to us has helped our community to change our habits and our character, and taught us how to be closer to God.’

As people get God’s word in their own language, so it can bring transformational change to individuals, the community and beyond – and ensure that all these vulnerable and marginalised cultures and languages loved by God will continue to exist for generations to come.


*United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

View UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day here.

Story by: Jeremy Weightman

Date: 20/02/2024

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