A Bible in every language
Bible Society is involved in a wide variety of translation work. In Australia our aim is to see Indigenous people come to a relationship with God through his word and to live committed and growing Bible-focused lives.
Types of Translation Projects
We fund a variety of different translation projects, many of which are in partnership with other groups and organisations across Australia. These are some of the translation efforts we're involved in:
Provides specialised printing services to language groups who have completed translation, includes: typesetting, design/layout and print production.
Enables recording of translated Scripture through audio recording workshops as well as supporting Oral Bible Translation (OBT) – a method that is perfect for oral languages without written orthography.
Develops and publishes culturally sensitive Bible resources for ministry to children, youth and those in hospital and prison as well as developing digital resources.
Provide specialist consultancy support for Bible Translation Projects in multiple languages to ensure the resulting translation is both accurate and clear.
About the Translation Process
Step 1 - English Front Translation
The goal of Bible translation is to communicate the same meaning in the target language, as to the original audience of the biblical texts. In this initial step, our teams working with First Nations peoples produce an English translation from which the Indigenous translators can translate into their local language. The Front Translation keeps both the source language (Hebrew or Greek) and the target language in mind.
Step 2 - First Draft
Using the Front Translation, the Indigenous translators produce an initial draft in their language. Translators can work independently, in pairs or small groups to undertake this stage. Complex genres, such as the poetry of the Prophets or abstract language and concepts found in Job, often require several translators to discuss the text and forge a draft. Once complete, it will be keyboarded, printed, and have a reading check done.
Step 3 - Second, Third, and Fourth Drafts
A second translator will look over the First Draft and make changes to improve the naturalness and accuracy of the text. Having multiple people engaged in the drafting process ensures that the resulting draft is the culmination of many people’s efforts, rather than reflecting the perspective of just one individual. This drafting stage irons out any English ‘literalisms’, ensuring the Scriptures sound as natural in the target language as possible. It also checks each draft against the Front Translation to make sure the original meaning is being clearly communicated.
Step 4 - Group Check
Once the original translator is happy with the draft, a team of translators will conduct a final group check. Anywhere between three and 10 translators will read through the final draft together and make sure the text ‘flows’ and sounds coherent. Any remaining spelling errors or syntactical idiosyncrasies are usually picked up and fixed at this stage.
Step 5 - Back Translation
The final draft is translated back into English as literally as possible. This step is ideally performed by someone not involved in the drafting process. The goal is to represent in English as accurately as possible what the final draft of the target language is saying.
Step 6 - Consultant Check
A Translation Consultant ensures the final draft conveys accurately the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek Bible. In this check, the Translation Consultant, an accredited expert in the original biblical languages, asks pertinent questions to the translators to ensure the translation is exegetically sound. Word usage issues may also be raised in this step, as well as questions about lexical choices (correct words).
Step 7 - Community Check
In this step, the clarity and naturalness of the translation are checked by Indigenous community members. Men and women from the community who have not been previously involved in the translation project are given the translated Scripture to read. The translation is read, and then the reader is asked detailed open-ended questions about what they have just read. This ensures the translation can be clearly understood by the majority of the community.
Step 8 - Preparation for Publication
The final layout and format of the text is prepared for publication. A final spell-check of the text is conducted. Book introductions, outlines, chapter headings, footnotes, maps, and illustrations are added at this stage. The book is then typeset, and decisions about the colour, dimensions and specifications of the book are decided by the translation team.
Step 9 - Publication and Dedication
The Bible is published, launched, and made available to the community at an official dedication ceremony. This final event celebrates the many years of hard work that have gone into translating the Scriptures, the partnership between the Indigenous translators and communities and supporting organisations, and is a thanks-giving service to God for his faithfulness and kindness in providing his Word to the local people.
Project Reporting to Keep You Involved
Funding Indigenous translation and engagement projects means you will be recognised as an official Funding Partner. Translation takes a long time but funding partners will be provided with regular updates on the progress of their projects. Here's what to expect over the course of the coming weeks and months:
Upon donation one of our team will contact you to help connect you to a suitable project
Our Translation Projects
We choose each project based on several key factors however the most significant factor is having the commitment of local translators and the support of the local church community. Without this these projects would not bear fruit. Once this commitment is assured Bible Society and partner organisations are able to provide the support and resources needed to bring these projects to fruition.
This indicates Indigenous languages where we feel we could potentially do some work. There are many factors to consider when evaluating translation work with a particular language. One of the most vital is the openness and willingness of the community to engage in the project.
Active indicates a language where we currently have translation projects that are in-progress
This indicates a language where translation work has been undertaken and they now have the vast majority of the New Testament translated. Further work may take place in the future to increase accessibility of scripture in this language.
Transformation through translation
Desire for Translation
We work in response to a request from the language community and/or local church for Scripture translation
Personal Discipleship/Spiritual Maturity
Isaiah 55: 10-11 says: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Having Scripture in a language encourages spiritual growth and maturity.
Cultural Identity & Connection
Each language has a unique cultural expression and for many speakers their language is part of who they are. When you speak a particular language you are representing not just yourself but your family and community. Bible Translation in Indigenous languages enable speakers to connect with Christ in a culturally appropriate way, he becomes like a brother and God speaks their language.
Translators are acknowledged as the experts in their languages and are the key partners in the projects. In this way they are empowered to see themselves as significant contributors to something special for their communities.
Reconciliation and Healing
The Bible is the story of God reconciling humanity to himself through his son Jesus Christ. Indigenous Bible Translators learn that God loves them as Aboriginal people and that the Gospel is not just for English speakers. For many Indigenous translators being able to work closely together with non-Indigenous Christians on the common goal of translation brings both unity and healing.
Translate the Word into someone's heart language today
Frequently Asked Questions
It is estimated at the time of white settlement in Australia, there were in excess of 300 distinct indigenous languages spoken among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Today there are only approximately 120 of these still used at some level, with at least 50 languages spoken by a significant number of people.
There are approximately 45 indigenous languages with some part of the Bible today.
- Only 1 language (Kriol) has the complete Bible;
- 7 languages have partial Bibles published (often known as MiniBibles) which contain some of the New Testament and maybe some selected books from the Old Testament;
- 12 have complete New Testaments – sometimes with a portion of the Old Testament also (often known as Shorter Bibles);
- 5 have at least one complete book of the New Testament, eg a Gospel;
- 9 have just portions or small selections of Scripture; and
- 16 languages have some parts of Scripture recorded as audio, although many are recordings of earlier translations.
It is true that most of the indigenous translation work for the Bible Society in Australia involve relatively small language groups particularly by global standards. The largest spoken Australian Indigenous languages have approximately 30,000 speakers (Kriol and Yumplatok/Torres Strait Creole) with most of these languages having between 500 – 1,000 speakers, some with less than a dozen fluent speakers. While these numbers do not compare to the numbers of speakers of most of the world’s languages, for example China’s minority speakers, some 8% of their total population still constitute around 100 million people. We believe the Gospel relates to people individually therefore it is vital that each individual has the opportunity to hear God’s Word in their own language. The parable of the 100 sheep whereby the shepherd willingly leaves the 99 safe while he ventures out looking for the single lost sheep paints an images of God’s economy and his heart for the individual who is lost.
A result of working with a small number of language speakers is that problems arise with production and publication costs due to the economy of scale. It is far more expensive per item to produce a small print run that to produce tens of thousands of copies, but unfortunately there isn’t the demand for these large numbers in most remote communities.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his (own heart) language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela (source: GRN website)
“The Bible is a special book – one I think every person needs to have in their mother tongue, the language they know best. There are many aboriginal people in Australia who don’t understand the gospel because they don’t have it in their own language – or if they do, they can’t get access to it. Yet even people who know several languages will turn to their mother tongue for their own devotions. When they want to get the most out of the Bible, it is their own language they turn to.” Paul Eckert (Pitjantjatjara Bible Translation Coordinator)
“ It is an awesome thing for the Word of God to be in the heart language of the people because it is Jesus coming to become like an Aboriginal person, knowing the people, their feelings, the hurts, the pain, their whole identity.” Maratja Dhamarrandji (Djambarrpuyŋu Translator)
“The English does not transform us.” Yurranddjii Dhurrkay (Djambarrpuyŋu Translator)
If we only published in one language, and only in one format, we could easily answer the question. Bible Societies work in hundreds of languages and many formats. Some Bibles are printed for as little as $4, others, like Braille Bibles, weigh tens of kilograms and cost hundreds of dollars.
Bible translation projects can take from 15 to 30 years to complete; and when Bibles are printed, the cost of these is not just the $15 we might pay a printer, but $15 plus the cost of years of translation work.
Some Bibles may in fact cost over $500 per Bible to translate, publish and distribute, but they are sold at greatly subsidised prices, and some are given freely. This is only possible through the generous support of both churches and individuals.
Bible Society partners with various Churches and Mission Organisations to support Bible Translation and engagement across Australia.
For some projects we are involved in coordinating Translation with local Indigenous translators on the ground. For other projects we provide support and expertise in areas of Technical Support, through Paratext translation software, and providing Translation Consultants. These consultants work in cooperation with the linguistics and translators already working on the language.
We play a essential role to assist Christians of all denominations across the country who are working with indigenous communities in Bible translation with their publication needs.
The Bible Society takes the translated text on to the next stage and usually handles design, printing, publishing, and delivery to Scripture launch celebrations – subsiding the production and distribution of indigenous Scriptures through donations.
“Indigenous communities engage with the Word in its audio form far more readily than its written form …we hope that people will be impacted by the Word as they hear it, and they will then be led to the written word.” Paul Eckert (Production Coordinator RIMS)
Australia indigenous culture is predominately an oral ‘story-telling’ culture in which information and traditions are handed down from one generation to the next in the form of verbal stories. In fact in some indigenous languages the Bible translation work is the first and only piece of written language. These people are used to hearing their language in spoken form rather than reading it. As a result the skill of reading is not as valued a skill in many remote communities, many Indigenous Christians in these communities said that their motivation to read well was purely so they could read the Bible.
Yes, Bible Society renumerates the Indigenous translators they work with. Bible Society also renumerates Indigenous speakers who are readers for the Audio Scripture recording workshops.
Yes, it may be possible to visit some of our projects. However some of these projects are in remote locations and travel cost can be high, also with uncertainty around interstate border restrictions there may be difficulties travelling from one state to another. Some remote regions also required a permit before allowing access to visitors. This is something that can be discussed and will depend on the particular project and language group.
In deciding which books of the Bible to translate first there are many factors to take into consideration the first of these is:
1) the desires of the translators themselves. Many translators may have a particular book of the Bible which they feel God wants them to translate or they particularly relate to, and we try as best as possible to respect their wishes.
However there are other factors which are also considered which we used to give direction to the translators, including:
2) what other Scripture is available and has previously been translated. For example, if there has already been a Gospel translated and is widely used, a translation team might choose to work on an Epistle or the Book of Acts to form a useful resource for the local Church rather than working on another Gospel straight away. If there is no Scripture translated in a language translation teams would generally be encouraged to begin with a Gospel.
3) Local Church Scripture needs, translation teams may be encourage to translate specific books or Scripture to address a local need eg. if there is a lot of fear in a culture specific Scripture verses focussing on overcoming fear might be translated first or teachings on forgiveness might be focussed on if the local church identifies a need for this.
4) Cultural factors, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities may lean toward certain portions of Scripture which speak more directly to their cultural understanding, eg. Genesis Creation Story may be given preference in terms of translation priorities.
5) Contextual complexity, shorter more narrative books may be attempted first eg. Book of Jonah or Gospel portions from Jesus’ Life while Books that contain more abstract concepts, symbolism and assumed background knowledge of Hebrew culture are left until a translation team has had an opportunity to ‘cut their teeth’ on relatively ‘easier’ sections of Scripture.
6) Bible Narrative, the Bible is a complete story and while the ultimate aim is to provide a complete Bible this can take many decades of translation work and may not always be possible. Therefore when selecting which portions of Scripture to translate the aim is to try and cover as much of the Biblical narrative as possible. For example a team may begin with a Gospel and then aim to work on the rest of the New Testament but they may also want to include a small portion of the Old Testament to ensure the Bible Narrative is evident, for example the first 11 chapters of Genesis to help give the New Testament some context.
7) Holy Jealousy, often if one language group has Scripture available a neighbouring language group may ask ‘why can’t we have this as well?’. This has occurred with the Western Arrarnta speakers of central Australia, who after hearing the Pitjantjatjara New Testament recordings approached Bible Society and asked ‘can we have this too?’.
As always these decisions are made in partnership, Bible Society may provide some guidance in this area but endeavours to put the desires of the translators and the needs of the local church first.
We have many scripture resources available for indigenous people, including printed resources, such as Colouring-in/Activity books available for indigenous children in a variety of indigenous languages; Scripture booklets and pamphlets for those who are sick or in hospital and even scripture resources for those in prison. We also have teaching resources available in audio format for indigenous church groups which include study guides.