Information Technology in Missions: Translation tools

Translation of any material is a very difficult process. The process can be long, difficult, and tedious. For the process of translation of the Bible it’s called the Road to Transformation. As with any difficult task there are tools to help translators. For a long time translators had to resort to pencil, paper, note cards, and shoe boxes. This process made for a very long and tedious work. One of a translators’ tasks is to create a dictionary for a language, and then they must be able to look that word up quickly. Could you imagine having to use note cards and a shoe box? That doesn’t even begin to address the issues of synonyms (unless you have a very busy person). The need is translation tools that are easy for a translator to work with while retrieving their needed information.

William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe, wrote these cards by hand while working on a translation for the  Cakchiquel language.

William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe, wrote these cards by hand while working on a translation for the Cakchiquel language.

That’s where software written specifically for translation needs comes into play. Now honestly there is no way I could review all the different pieces of software out there. So I have have selected a few samples that I found interesting. Hopefully you will find this software interesting as well.

WeSay - EnglishLet’s start with WeSay. WeSay is a dictionary building software, but here is the catch. It’s not actually designed for linguists (translators). It’s designed so that everyday people can enter dictionary entries in for their own language. This alone could help immensely to speed up the process. Simply by having a dictionary at hand that can be built not by just one or two people, but a whole group of people! After all what would you want more then anything else during the translation process? A dictionary with a great deal of variety. More information.

Next we will move to FLEx. FLEx is short for Fieldworks Language Explorer. FLEx is the major toolkit used by linguists to keep track of lexicon information, to create dictionaries, interlinearize texts, analyze discourse features, and study morphology. This tool is one of the chief tools for linguists. It helps them to keep track of all of the different areas of studying a particular language. Without FLEx most of this research would not be as easily accessible. In fact in the past this information was kept in different written forms such as index cards in a shoe box, or in huge manuscripts that were difficult to copy. If for whatever reason this information had been lost then the work for that language group would have to start over. Not to mention It could only be worked on by one or two people. Now with this information on a computer (or multiple computers) then it can be at the fingertips of the linguist(s). It can be backed up and preserved. Even preserved around the world easily, so that if natural disasters were to occur then the data is safe. The work is safe!  If FLEx has begun to whet your appetite, then let me suggest watching some of the videos dealing with FLEx.

Moving on to Bloom. Bloom is written with the thought that to learn to read one needs bookand more then just one book. This software allows a people group to quickly translate a handful of shell books. Shell books are basically books like primers, basic hygiene, children’s story, etc. Basically a linguist or a national translator can translate the shell books quickly and have multiple books for people to read quickly. BUT it doesn’t stop there. The people can then continue to write books in their own language with templates within Bloom to facilitate quickly writing books! Custom artwork, a library to keep these new books, pdf templates laid out in easily printable form, and the list goes on.

Learning to read takes books. Learning to read well, and developing a love of reading, takes lots of books.1

These three tools are only the tip of the ice berg of the different tools that linguists use in aiding their work for Bible translation. Two of these tools, WeSay and Bloom, have team members in Papua New Guinea! Without tools such as these Bible translation for a language group would often take two, three, or even four times the amount of time that it does now.

How to pray for developers, linguists, and trainers:

  1. Pray that developers will have the insight to create translation tools that help linguists and translators alike with their huge task.
  2. Pray for linguists to be able to learn new software and how to better use the tools at their disposal.
  3. Pray for the trainers who have to teach linguists, national translators, and whoever else may use the translation tools, how to best utilize it. Then pray that these same trainers will be able to give pertinent data back to developers so improvements can be made to the software in use.

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1) Bloom’s website: http://bloom.palaso.org/