Playbook: How computer tools can help Bible translators

Computers tools are wonderful, but they are, just that, tools. A computer will never be able to translate the Bible for you. This is unique work that requires a team of people! However, computer tools can assist you in the work of Bible translation. Below, we provide a quick overview of how technology can help you in 7 common phases of Bible translation.

1. Language Assessment & Audience Research

Language assessment seeks to understand and account for the various factors that might impact a potential Bible translation project. These often relate to the the use of the languages used by the community and/or how the vernacular language has been engaged by Bible translation organizations or church communities (currently or historically).

For example, teams doing language assessment might try to answer answers questions such as:

  • What languages does this community use, and when?
  • Is there an expressed need for Bible translation work from the local community or local churches?
  • To what extent does the community understand other widely spoken languages?
  • How do they feel about these languages?
  • How are these languages related?
  • What is the level of literacy within the community?
  • Who are the key stakeholders in the community?
  • Have Bible translations organizations or churches previously started or completed any translation or language development work?

This information is used to inform your team and help you make language program planning decisions. In certain cases, gather information is also reported to the Bible translation community (e.g., via ProgressBible) and/or to the academic community through publications, books and electronic survey reports.

What are some ways a computer can help?

The data representing Bible translation and language use around world is complicated. You may need to analyze data about geography, language families, population numbers, and more. A tool like ProgressBible can help you visualize this complicated data in ways that inspire action.

Further, when conducting language assessment with a language community, you may be confronted with a large amount of linguistic data and the challenge of understandings how it all fits together. Computer software packages, such as Cog, can help you not only organize and store this data but also make sense of it, allowing you to see the big picture of the language varieties and how they relate to each other.

With a better understanding of how your community’s languages and dialects are related, you can help stakeholders make better-informed decisions relating to language development.

Wider initial research will explore other aspects that help determine approaches to translation and the strategies that will aid Scripture Engagement.

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2. Language Development

As a language community seeks to use their language and translate the Bible into their language, they often take a series of ongoing planned actions to ensure that their language meets the community’s translation goals.

For example, many languages don’t have a fully developed alphabet. If these language communities desire to translate the Bible in a written form, they need to come up with a writing system that is suited to the specific features of their language. Such a writing system should also consider wider social and political factors along with the linguistic analysis. Once in place, literacy initiatives can engage with speakers throughout the language community, as they begin to interact with the writing system and provide feedback to the iterative orthography development process.

It may take a small team of language experts years to collect and analyze data from speakers of the language to identify the major sounds of the language, each of which require a symbol in the orthography.

What are some ways a computer can help?

Computers can help us study a language and figure out the best way to write the sounds and words of that language. Some software programs process audio files to automatically identify the major sounds and tones to suggest how those different sounds might be represented in the alphabet. These identifications can speed up much of the time consuming labeling and note taking.

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3. Biblical Content and Context

Bible translation necessarily involves understanding the context, culture, and target audiences in order to convey meaning effectively.  Having a clear understanding of the context and meaning of biblical texts and their original cultural and literary environment is essential for anyone who wishes to translate the Bible with integrity.

What are some ways a computer can help?

Trying to understand Biblical content and context can be overwhelming. Thankfully, many digital resources have been developed that help us to delve into the biblical languages and understand the context within which the texts were written. Insights from biblical scholars throughout history have been collected and you can easily access this vast knowledge in order to have the best possible foundation for Bible translation.

Example of such tools include the Digital Training Library and MACULA/ MARBLE. These tools provide both training and helps for translation specialists in the global Bible Translation community. Included are interfaces and courses to help you understand and work with the original source languages (Greek and Hebrew). This training and related tooling is for beginners and experts alike!

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4. Scripture Drafting and Editing

Once a translation team has identified factors that impact translation planning, developed language resources (like an alphabet), and researched the biblical context, they are ready to start the drafting process. Drafting and editing a Bible translation involves taking verses, passages or stories from the Bible in one language and writing them down or recording them in another language.

When drafting, translation team may consult or refer to the original biblical text in Greek and Hebrew. However, the may also refer to existing Bibles in other languages that they know. In particular, a Bible in a closely related or national language can also be used as a source text for drafting into the target language.

What are some ways a computer can help?

Using a computer to transform text or audio form one language to another is called “Machine Translation.” Machine translation tools are not good enough to draft a Bible translation without human translator input and editing. However, these tools have improved significantly in recent years, even when translating between languages that are not related in any way.

Think of a machine translation tool as a drafting assistant working with you to translate the Bible. This assistant might make suggestions about good translations for a particular passage. They may also create a draft of the passage for you to post edit.

An example of a machine translation tool that can help you by suggesting translations of passages as you work on your draft is Scripture Forge. Tools that will help you by creating a first draft for post editing include TBTA and Avodah.

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5. Quality Assessment

It is vital that any new translation of the Bible undergo a thorough series of checks to ensure that it is accurate, natural, and understandable to the language community. This is especially important for languages where there is no previous translation and the current work will be the first Scripture available in the language.

Even small errors can lead to the Scripture being rejected as unreliable, and not a trustworthy source of God’s words in the language community.

What are some ways a computer can help?

While some checks performed by translation consultants and community members are highly context-specific and require intensive human deliberation, there are other parts of the checking process where computers can assist a translation or review team.

Advanced technologies like AQuA can point out potential flaws or errors in a draft translation, allowing the translators and consultants to focus their attention and quickly make corrections earlier in the translation process. Applications like Paratext and TranslationCore can also track and ensure consistency in key terms, section headers, versification, etc.

While humans and the Holy Spirit will always be central to Bible translation checking, a well-configured computer can be an extremely helpful companion, making the translator and the consultant more effective in producing a high-quality translation.

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6. Publishing

Once a translation has been checked by the key experts and stakeholders, it is ready to be published! This could be in a variety of formats, from printed text to digital text, audio, video, or any combination of these.

While it’s important to get expert and stakeholder approval before publishing a translation, digital publication options allow you to be more flexible and responsive to reader feedback after publication, continuing to improve the translation as necessary. This kind of digital publishing approach can ensure that your translations are of the highest quality and meet the needs of your audience.

What are some ways a computer can help?

Digital publishing can facilitate both use and community feedback on a Bible translation, which can be reviewed and the publication rapidly updated. Computer tools make digital publication easier than ever, taking text, audio, and video and making them available in numerous formats and platforms.

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7. Scripture Engagement

Simply having access in a preferred language doesn’t automatically mean that the community will adopt and use a Bible translation. Early and ongoing research helps to encourage local ownership, determine effective approaches to translation, and inform the variety of text, audio, and video formats through which scripture is made available along with appropriate supporting strategies for use.

You may need to help your language community consider and plan for access to Scripture in the languages and media that serve them best. As appropriate to the context, you can assist churches and other interested individuals and agencies that wish to facilitate access to and life-changing encounters with the Bible.

When working in scripture engagement, teams might advise on ways other communities have effectively used Scripture texts to address everyday concerns (illness, interpersonal conflict, life transitions) as well as more pressing ones (HIV-AIDS, trauma due to conflict or natural disasters). Music, drama and the visual arts can play a powerful role in helping people engage with Scripture.

What are some ways a computer can help?

A computer can help create rich media engagements with Bible content in multiple formats and within a church community. This could be a bilingual presentation of the material, in the new language alongside the language the person is more used to using. It could also mean presenting audio or video materials alongside a text representation, with accurate alignment between the two.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to Scripture Engagement, and the options might be overwhelming. A site like or the Scripture Engagement Guide might help you get started!

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