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Telling Stories in Dialects

by Dayna

Wycliffe Singapore, along with trainers from another Wycliffe entity, has been conducting workshops regularly to train storying facilitators in Singapore, and the sessions are currently being held online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This workshop is a part of an initiative to train and equip people with the skills to craft oral Bible stories in colloquial Chinese dialects (and even in Singlish!) Through this, Wycliffe Singapore aims to improve dialect speakers’ access to Bible stories, even if they cannot read or understand the Bible in English or Mandarin well. This workshop had participants who were Cantonese and Hokkien speakers as well.

Dayna attended the “Oral Bible Storytelling” workshop organised by Wycliffe in December 2021. She shares with us what she has learnt and what went on during the workshop!

“Being someone whose heart language is English, attending the workshop which was mainly conducted in Chinese was rather challenging. However, with understanding trainers and participants, I was able to overcome my fear of speaking in Chinese in a large group of people!”

What went on during the workshop:

As we had smaller breakout sessions with groupmates who spoke in similar dialects, we were able to bounce ideas off each other and help one another whenever we had any difficulties translating the story into our preferred dialects.

During the first session of the workshop, we learned about how to translate the Bible into Mandarin through storytelling, where we took part in activities such as identifying our target audience, how we wanted to communicate the Bible stories with them, and what prior knowledge of the Bible they might have. We also discussed why someone might need us to explain the Bible in a story format to understand the Bible better.

We explored John 8:1-11 and tried to translate the passage into a dialect that we are able to understand. We thought about each character in the story, how they felt, what they were doing at that time, and what their thoughts were so that we could translate their feelings into our stories.

We then did a storyboard activity with the entire group, where we illustrated John 8:1-11 through simple drawings and used the storyboard to help us tell the story in our own dialects.

During the second session, we also discussed who else we could share the story with, as well as some action steps on what to do next after we had shared the story with others. We then had to do a voice recording of ourselves retelling the story in our preferred dialects, which we are then able to use as a future reference for ourselves.

Reflecting upon the workshop...

Throughout the 2 days of the workshop, here are 3 things that I learned:

  1. Translating the Bible into another language, even one that we are comfortable with, can be rather challenging as we need to ensure that none of the important points of the Bible is missing or interpreted wrongly.

  2. Listening to the traditional style of Bible passages being read out orally can make it difficult to understand, as some Biblical terms were difficult to translate, and can further confuse the one listening to the story.

  3. Working together in small groups of people who shared similar language knowledge helped a lot in allowing us to deepen our understanding of certain terms used in the Bible. Bouncing ideas off each other helped us better translate the passage into something easier to understand for those listening to our stories.

We also took this opportunity to gather some responses from other participants and asked them some questions.

1. How was your overall experience attending the workshop?

Participant S: “It was good to go through the process of being in the shoes of people who prefer hearing and talking, rather than reading. I see the place for oral storytelling of the gospel and God's word in many languages, such as dialects.”

Participant T: “The overall experience was interesting as there were a few new experiences for me. It was my first attempt to do storying in a colloquial second language.”

2. What were some challenges you faced during the workshop?

Participant S: “Poor memory and lack of vocabulary for the target language.”

Participant T: “The challenge was the repositioning of myself to a totally new perspective of a person who heard of the faith for the first time.”

3. How did you overcome these challenges?

Participant S: “Kudos to my supportive group members and the facilitators who addressed issues as they arise.”

Participant T: “The guidance from the facilitator and the discussions allowed me to listen and learn, especially in the interpretation of certain words.”

4. Would you recommend this workshop to your friends/family?

Participant S: “If I know of anyone wanting to learn to share the gospel or do outreach in dialects.”

Participant T: “Yes, I would recommend this workshop, as it helps not only to do oral storying technically, it also helps one to facilitate meaningful discussion and relate it in very practical ways which go beyond literacy and age boundary.”

5. Final comments

Participant S: “Overall, thank God for the course. I have benefitted. I have one clear story to tell my grandmother the next time I visit if the opportunity arises.”


More on oral storying:

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