By Bob Creson, President/CEO
In a Biola University classroom in Southern California, something is happening that just a few years ago would have been impossible.
Professor Rick Floyd sits down at his computer and sends a Google Hangout* invitation to the Wanca Quechua translation team in Peru. With Rick in the classroom are three graduate students completing their M.A. degrees in Linguistics and Biblical Languages, and this seminar taught by Rick is the capstone course for the program. In addition to these three, several former students in various parts of the U.S. are participating through the internet as well.
Before Rick became the co-director of Biola’s Summer Institute of Linguistics program, he and his wife, Melanie, spent 26 years with the Wanca people helping them translate Scripture into their language. Now an innovative use of technology is allowing him, along with these graduate students, to contribute to the Wanca Old Testament project while simultaneously training new workers for the worldwide Bible translation ministry.
The agenda this morning is a review of Joshua chapter 6 (Joshua and the fall of Jericho). The students have carefully prepared for the session by studying a “back translation” of the chapter—a version of the text in Spanish, translated back from the Wanca version and reflecting as much Wanca grammar and vocabulary as possible. Using their knowledge of Spanish, and drawing on their studies in theology, exegesis, biblical languages, and linguistics, the students have identified spots they think might need to be better translated.
A large screen in the classroom suddenly springs to life as the Wanca team responds to the Hangout invitation. Separated by more than 4000 miles, the two teams begin to interact “face to face,” with Rick facilitating the discussion. Rick conveys student questions to the Wancas and discusses with them, often in their language, the nuances of the Hebrew original and their translation. He keeps the students involved by switching back to Spanish as needed.
The Wanca translators record the revisions. When they finish the chapter, the Wancas print copies of the revised draft and read the entire chapter out loud. They discuss some questionable spots with Rick, make a few more revisions, and then sign off, promising to be back next week to work on chapter 7.
Rick says the Wancas would continue to translate whether they received any help or not, but they are very grateful for the input. The students raise pertinent questions and often bring to light issues that the translation team missed. Sometimes the conversation leads the translators to significantly tweak the direction of the translation.
And sometimes it’s the other way around—the student consulting team’s knowledge and understanding are tweaked. The students are continually coming face to face with issues raised by the nature of the target language and culture—issues that never come up in their theology and exegesis classes. As they are coached by a senior SIL translation consultant, the students are gaining eye-opening and exhilarating first-hand experience by working on a real translation project, in a seamless integration of training and recruiting!
What’s so unique about this translation program? Capturing the best of current translation strategies, it is leveraging available technology; it’s building on the work already done in the translation of the New Testament; it reflects an emerging model for translation where the goals for the program are driven by the target community and led by mother-tongue translators; it’s creatively using available personnel spread across geography and time zones—people with education and skills but no previous on-the-ground translation experience.
Cheaper, faster, better quality—that’s the kind of Old Testament the Wanca people are getting. And it’s just one example of the innovation, enthusiasm, and teamwork that is accelerating the pace of Bible translation, taking us ever closer to the day when people everywhere will be able to engage with accurate, understandable Scriptures.
*Google Hangout is an internet video chat service somewhat like Skype.
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