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Stories

From the Desk of a Mother Tongue Translator

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I have never shared anything about how I do translation each day. Now, I want to talk about my daily translation work so that you can understand it better. There are three main steps:

Step 1. Understanding the original biblical texts I use a computer software to get the basic meaning of the original biblical texts verse by verse. After that, I read several different versions in English, the national language and related languages to understand it better. When I encounter difficult verses, I also do research in different commentaries and reference verses within the Bible itself. When I do this step, I ask myself the following two questions: Did I understand it correctly? What does this verse tell us?

Step 2. Organizing the meaning for my language After understanding the meaning of the verse, I organize the meaning, sentence structure, patterns, etc. in a way that my people can understand. I will also compare with neighboring language versions. This helps not only to clarify the meaning, but also helps me to reorder the sentence structure in my language. This is especially helpful when I translate the New Testament, where the logic in biblical Greek is so different from my own language. Sometimes it can be the exact opposite! Several questions I ask myself as I do this step: Do my people say it this way? Does it sound foreign? Is there a better way to say it? A better word choice?

Step 3. Translating into my language At this point, my mind translates and builds the verse into my language. Now I type the sentence in the software word by word. If I translate a poetic feature text, I always do my best to keep the meaning while I try to keep its poetic feature as well. After typing it, I read it again while I keep these questions in mind: Is it natural? Did I get the meaning right? Does it keep the specific features of the original text genre? Will my people understand it correctly? Besides these steps, there are many other challenges almost every day. For instance, finding an equivalent word – in Hebrew, the word for brother can mean either elder or younger brother. But a simple word like this always gives me a headache! My language doesn’t have a word which means both elder and younger brother; we have two different words for elder brother and younger brother. Often, the birth order is not clear in the biblical story so I need to do a lot of extra research just for this simple word. And many times, I encounter a word or concept which we don’t have in our language at all, for example, majesty, splendor, redeemer, covenant, etc. Then the solution is not always so easy – to borrow, to create a new word or phrase, or to explain? These are just some aspects of my translation work.

I hope this will help you to understand my translation job better so that you can share with me the joy I have, and stand with me in prayer.

The writer is a main translator in one of the projects supported by Wycliffe Singapore’s R200 Programme.

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