Stories from the Field, 5 July 2022
“A Bible translator must have three loves: Love God; Love God’s Word; Love people and the languages that they speak.”
Poh San, who shared this, started her journey as a Bible translator in 1974. She left her job as a primary school teacher, did theological studies, joined Wycliffe Bible Translators and underwent linguistics training. While working on the Mauwake translation in Papua New Guinea (PNG), she and her team mate, Liisa, also ran workshops to train translators, trainers and consultants.
In the mid-80s, PNG churches and leaders had felt the need to train more locals to do translation and be trainers. She and Liisa told themselves: “We are not here to translate just one Bible for one group of people; we are here to do translation for the nation.” So they spent a few months of each year running workshops for 30-40 local people at a time, 2-3 from each language group. Some of those she trained have not only served their own people and other groups in PNG, but gone on to serve in other Pacific nations as well.
Later, Poh San also trained to be a consultant, and helped to check translations for other groups. She saw how the lack of consultants was a major bottleneck in Bible translation in PNG and in Asia. Now, at nearly 80 years old, she is still consulting over Zoom from her home in Singapore, and helping to train and mentor new consultants.
What skills do translation consultants need?
First, they need the same skills as Bible translators, and should have experience in translating. These skills are many and multifaceted. Academic knowledge of the Bible and linguistics are necessary but not sufficient, and many skills can only be built up through experience. Consultants not only check Bible translations before publication, but they also help to train the translators and other consultants.
Another important factor in Bible translation, besides the usual three (clarity, accuracy, naturalness), is “acceptability”. Translators have to work with the local people and existing churches (if any) to ensure that the words and phrases chosen are acceptable to them. If not, the resulting translation may end up not being used by the churches and community.
Listening to Poh San was a real inspiration – her love for God, his Word and the unreached really shone through, as well as her desire to continue to “pass the baton” to others as long as she is able. May God continue to convict his people to make his Word available to the unreached in their own languages.
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