New Computer Program Aids Bible Translators JAARS, Wycliffe Bible Translators' missionary air service, is using a "shoebox" to aid Bible translation around the world. Staff members with JAARS have developed the Shoebox Five computer program. Bud Frank, director of computer and communications services for JAARS says every time a staff member learns a new word, it's entered into the program. "It's a tool to keep track of our data as well as help analyze these unwritten languages around the world that we're working with." Frank says Shoebox Five helps translators get the Scriptures into the hands of the people so they can come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Bible translation is never easy. But technology can lighten the load.
A computer alone makes it a lot faster. With solar power, people can work right in the village. With satellite Internet, they can back up drafts—and get input from consultants halfway across the world. And software helps every stage of translation: analyzing a language, building a dictionary, drafting, checking, and publishing. If the link above does not work, please look for the information technology link on the home page.
If you still can’t find the link, you can also enter in the words technology, software or translation on the website’s search engine.
The Seed Company
Accelerating Scripture Translation
The Seed Company was launched by Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1993 with a mandate to accelerate Bible translation. It started with pilot projects in 10 different languages linked to prayer partners and investors. Four years later,the model was working in 50 people groups and growing.
Although Bible translation dates back to the first centuries of the Church, the spread into lesser-known languages began after the Reformation. Wycliffe Bible Translators initiated and led the modern Bible translation movement in the mid-20th century. By the 1980s, however, they realized that it would take 150 years at the current pace of translation to reach every people group. Wycliffe asked former CEO Bernie May to lead the initiative to build a model that would accelerate the pace of Bible translation and involve more national leadership.
By 2002, The Seed Company reached its 200th language group, with all projects being led by national translators. By 2007 the number of cumulative languages engaged grew to 400, and in 2012 we entered our 800th language partnership.
Today, The Seed Company is working with several hundred local translators who are leading the translation process in more than 400 Bible translation projects. These translators are responding to the local churches’ and ministries’ need to make Scripture available more quickly for church planting and discipleship.
Translation and Technology
How advances in technology and software development have impacted translation
• May 31, 2016 By: Melissa Paredes
• Bible Translation Pacific Papua New Guinea
When John and Bonnie Nystrom first started translating in 1990 for the Arop language of Papua New Guinea, they used a simple laptop to type up translation drafts. The majority of the work — including checking the accuracy and consistency of key terms and phrases — was done by hand. Today, software programs such as ParaTExt help by reducing effort of the translation team while increasing the output of their work.
AN EASY WAY TO SEARCH
“Computers are better and faster than people at finding stuff and counting things,” John shared. “But great translation tools use the computer’s finding and counting skills to set up what a
translator wants to spend his time doing: deciding if what’s there is correct or if it can be improved.”
When John and the team were translating the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, they had difficulty translating the phrase “clean conscience.” As they continued working, they were able to choose the most accurate and natural-sounding translation of the concept. Rather than having to search the translation by hand for all of the instances of “clean conscience,” they were able to use ParaTExt to identify them immediately. Several years ago this would have taken significant effort, and the team would not be sure they had caught all the recurrences. But now, ParaTExt identifies the locations of key biblical words and phrases, and shows how they have been translated.
John and Bonnie, along with several other Wycliffe members, work in a cluster project that focuses on 10 different languages in their region of Papua New Guinea. Local pastors work alongside
them to help with the translation for their language. It’s incredibly helpful for the team to be able to use a translation of a nearby language as a source text. Native speakers of one
language can use specialized software to adapt a translation in a related language to fit the words and speech patterns of their own language. This ultimately allows the pastors to create
translations in their language much faster. John also shared, “It can help the translator spend more of his time doing what only a real human native speaker can do: deal with all the
unpredictable and unique differences that occur between languages.”
Software development has helped not only increase the speed and accuracy of the translation process, but also made it easier for local speakers to participate in the work. “Some of the local pastors I work with would really struggle to work on a translation all by themselves,” John shared. “But because they work in a big group, and because the technology can help them take advantage of each other’s work, they are able to produce higher-quality translation much sooner than they otherwise would.”
He also went on to share, “Many of my pastor friends had no previous experience with computer and very little formal education. As the translation tools improve, and especially as we design them to be more accessible to people like my pastor friends, we open the door wider and wider for more and more people to participate in the Bible translation process. I love seeing that happen.”
THE UNSUNG HEROES
John recalls what it was like for their team to work together before software developments made life — and translation — easier. When the cluster translation project began in 2001, the team
spent significant time and effort saving, updating and storing files. Because software tools at the time were designed for one person to use one computer while working on one language in one
location, they weren’t able to collaborate effectively. But with ParaTExt, they’re able to collaborate easily — even across two continents! John now lives in the U.S., but he’s still able to
actively participate in the work remotely.
“These are … reasons software developers [in missions] are some of my heroes,” John shared. “They could be making a lot more money working somewhere else, but many of them are giving their lives to produce great software for Bible translators. When they make one small improvement, it may seem small to them. But that small thing might be something that translators all over the world do multiple times a day in the 2,000 languages in which translation is currently being done.
“I don't know of another place a person could work in Bible translation where they can have that big and that broad of an impact.”
There’s an App for That
Technology Transforms Bible Translation
Ask someone what they imagine when they think of Bible translation, and they might describe a linguist sitting alone at a simple desk in a remote village, poring over a Bible word by word and
writing or typing it into a local language. The work appears slow, painstaking and exacting.
While no less challenging or precise, today the work can look radically different. Where Bible translations once took 25 or 30 years to complete, advancements like customized software, computer tables, apps and other tech have made it possible to get the Bible into people’s hands faster, more easily and in more ways than ever before in history.
Mike Cochran has served in language technology development with SIL for 20 years, working with highly skilled teams to help increase the accuracy of translation work and the productivity of translation teams, from cultural anthropology to grammar and orthography.
“Long ago, [SIL researchers] actually created a portable computer before there was one,” Mike said. “They also created hardware to process audio before there were cards and computers that did that. As an organization, we’ve always been pioneering in a technology space. Nobody else had anything like what we created.”
With the help of other organizations contributing their own expertise, today that pioneering innovation continues. Take a look at some of the cutting-edge tools changing the landscape of Bible translation around the world.
When linguist John Nystrom and his wife, Bonnie, first started translation work in 1990 with the Arop language group of Papua New Guinea, the majority of the work—like checking key terms and
phrases for accuracy and consistency—was done by hand. Today, software programs like Paratext have become incredible tools to reduce eﬀort and increase output.
Developed by United Bible Societies and SIL International, Paratext is the world’s leading software application for developing and checking new Bible translation texts, or revisions to existing texts. It gives teams a central location for reviewing word lists and biblical terms, storing project notes, comparing a translation to the original Greek and Hebrew or a source text to ensure accuracy, and collaborating with team members remotely using the internet.
“Computers are better and faster than people at finding stuﬀ and counting things,” John said. “But great translation tools use the computer’s finding and counting skills to set up what a translator wants to spend his time doing: deciding if what’s there is correct or if it can be improved.” That’s what Paratext has done for the Arop translation team and countless others.
When John and the team were translating the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, for example, they needed a clear translation for the phrase “clean conscience.” Once they settled on the most accurate and natural phrase for the concept, they needed to replace all the existing instances of “clean conscience” with their translated alternative.
Previously that would have required serious time and eﬀort, and ultimately the team still couldn’t be sure they’d caught all the references in the Scriptures. With Paratext, rather than searching the translation by hand they were able to identify all the instances of the phrase immediately. The software pinpoints each one and shows how it has been translated.
But what if you’re not a trained linguist? What if instead you’re a minority language speaker who wants to help translate the Bible for your own community, in a remote location with limited resources?
A Lighter Option
While Paratext is ideal for many translation projects, for teams in some of the poorest, hardest-to-reach areas of the world, it can be impractical. Many of these teams are working with older
computer models, most of which can’t run the last three versions of Paratext, and there’s no IT department in place to oﬀer tech support.
In response to this complex need, teams from organizations like SIL International, Operation Agape, Distant Shores Media and Wycliﬀe Bible Translators USA are introducing a simple solution. They’re partnering to develop Paratext Lite, a stripped back and more agile version of its robust counterpart.
“Paratext Lite is designed for a translator who hasn’t been heavily trained in linguistics or isn’t familiar with complex software,” said Doug Hennum, chief innovation and information oﬃcer at Wycliﬀe USA. “It has a simple interface, does what they need it to do and then transfers it into Paratext so more highly skilled linguists and consultants can do what they need to do with it.”
Best of all, it’s tablet based and runs on the Android operating system, which is widely available around the world. This makes it ideal for low-power devices that work well in rugged desert environments or climates with high humidity and rain. It also eliminates the challenges presented by desktop computers with malware issues, laptops constantly trying to download updates, or spotty internet connections.
“I think it may well be a game changer,” Mike said. “Android devices are cheap and low power and will give us the ability to roll out [the software] to people who otherwise couldn’t take advantage of the tools.”
Earlier this year the team rolled out Paratext Lite in beta mode, testing it with 95 people in 32 countries. The program was released in June.
There’s an App for That
The explosion of apps (short for “applications”) onto mobile devices in recent years has dramatically enhanced and expanded much of our digital experience. When communicating with friends and
family, playing games, tracking our health and even managing finances, apps are now a pervasive part of daily life for many.
Apps are also changing the way people all over the world engage with the Bible. YouVersion’s Bible app allows readers to interact with Scripture in more than 1,000 languages. The Deaf Bible app from Deaf Bible Society oﬀers Bible translations in various sign languages exclusively designed for the Deaf. BIBLE.IS from Faith Comes By Hearing contains audio Bibles for oral cultures and the “JESUS” film, a video dramatization that depicts the life of Jesus Christ in over 1,500 languages. Still more apps like iDisciple and Olive Tree oﬀer thousands of devotionals, sermons and Bible studies.
Bible translation is no exception to the app phenomenon, as developers are continually finding ways to adapt these globally embraced tools to make Scripture accessible in brand new ways.
“There are several key experiments moving us forward rapidly,” Mike said. One is a program SIL developed called Scripture App Builder. It helps you build customized apps for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, where you specify everything from the Scripture files used down to the fonts and colors. Scripture App Builder will package everything together and build the customized app for you. You can then install it on your phone, send it to others by Bluetooth, share it on microSD memory cards and publish it to app stores on the internet.
Another exciting new tool is called Scripture Forge, an app for translation teams to facilitate online community Scripture checking. Many Bible translation projects today are engaging an increasingly geographically diverse group of mother-tongue speakers.
“Often those people are online, which gives us an opportunity to do things we haven’t been able to do before, especially regarding evaluating how eﬀective our approaches are,” Mike said.
Scripture Forge allows teams to engage with the language community by uploading Scripture portions, asking targeted questions about the translation and inputting the responses back into Paratext. The Scripture portions can be shared widely through social media and other channels, broadening the reach of the translated Word.
“You’re improving quality as you go, and people are actually using it before you’ve spent 15 years in a community. You’re also changing the quality of your translation as you go, because it’s being used by more people in a greater variety of contexts,” Mike added. “And if halfway through [a translation project] a team member has to leave, or a project stalls [because of conflict, unrest or funding issues] the community can still use what’s already been produced.
“Those things are very motivating for me with these technologies—the breadth, the reach. It’s motivating to reach the diaspora.”
Ultimately the core goal behind any advancement remains the same: ensuring that every person has access to God’s Word in a language and form they can clearly understand. As Bible translation
and distribution organizations, if we’re serious about that call our methodologies for completing this task are going to continue to grow and change.
One thing is abundantly clear: When it comes to technological advancements in Bible translation today, “it’s becoming much more of a collaborative eﬀort than it ever used to be,” Doug said. “There are very few things we’re working on that we aren’t doing with a partner. The future is not going to be one organization making this happen. It’s got to be done in partnership.”