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Field of dreams

Noon is still a few hours away, but already, labourers working in a field in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are feeling the heat. Drenched in perspiration, some in the diverse group of about 35 men and women appear lethargic as they bend low to pull weeds or...

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Language development with health focus

Praise God for the good start to lan­guage de­vel­op­ment re­search* for a lan­guage in Asia. The fa­cil­i­ta­tor for the pro­ject would like to pro­duce a sim­ple gram­mar and phonol­ogy and fin­ish his study of the so­col­in­guis­tic sit­u­a­tion by May. He also plans to be­gin with lit­er­acy ma­te­ri­als that fo­cus...

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“They are a model to us!” – Testimonial from Chad

Hanna has come from Switzerland to do a short-term assignment in Western Africa. Tell us, how did you get the idea to do a short assignment? Chad is my second home. Since I grew up there, I always wanted to go back one day. I wanted to see the...

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What we do

Many steps lead to transformation

Language and development
What does a linguist do?

Working alongside members of a language community, a linguist will work towards:

  • The formation of local language committees, who will guide and promote language development
  • Identifying gifted mother-tongue speakers and training them to participate fully in the project
  • A thorough linguistic analysis of the sound system
  • A practical alphabet that is approved and accepted by the community
  • A detailed analysis of the grammatical system and language structure, which will help translators produce a high-quality translation
  • A language database, often leading to a more fully developed dictionary.

How can I become a linguist?

The School of Language and Scripture provides training in linguistics. Applicants for linguistic work:

  • are usually – but not always – educated to degree level
  • have well-developed analytical abilities
  • sometimes have a background in linguistics or languages – but we also welcome enquiries from those who have studied mathematics or any other analytical subject.

Why linguistics?

Linguistics lays the foundations for Bible translation by analysing the building blocks of languages.

We wouldn’t commission a builder to build a new house without first ensuring that the foundations were solid and the ground well-prepared. Likewise, before translation and any other language-related work can start there is a lot of groundwork to be done in understanding how a language works, and then developing the language – like designing a writing system for an unwritten language.

Many of the 2000 languages where Bible translations are still needed do not yet have a written form. The majority have never been analysed or documented. In many cases, language communities are keen to see their language developed, but lack training and encouragement.

Source: Wycliffe UK


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Linguistics is …
Excelling in linguistics

«While my wife and I were serving with Wycliffe in Africa, I was asked to teach linguistics to university students, first in Mozambique (in Portuguese) and then in Kenya (in English). I hadn’t originally set out to be a teacher—I actually studied electrical engineering in college—but it has gone so well that my wife and I have been invited to teach full-time at one of Wycliffe’s training programs in North America. We are really looking forward to it!

Why do we love teaching linguistics? What motivates us? It’s the people. When you are training you often have three different groups of people, and each type is uniquely valuable. The first group is those who really struggle learning the concepts. With them, we’re happy to simply help them move forward. The second group is those who learn what we teach and apply it, confidently able to do the work themselves. Both of those are fine, but it’s the third group that really encourages and speaks to us. They are the people we train who really run with the information; they’re the ones who learn the material and immediately start looking for pastors and other people to teach.

Again, all people are valuable, but it’s those moments when everything clicks for someone and they catch a passion for what they’ve just learned—that’s truly what we live for!

My goal as a linguistics teacher is to be like a master craftsman, apprenticing others to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need to be successful and effective out in the field. And my hope is that some of those journeymen will in turn go on to train others. That’s what the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, NLT).

It has been so rewarding to see Africans we have trained go on to become Bible translators and translation and Scripture engagement consultants—putting into practice what they have learned and also passing it on to others. That’s one of the most important things that keeps us motivated in teaching students and helping pass on the vision for bringing God’s Word to everyone who still needs it.

And we’re happy to fulfill that role.»

For over 30 years, William and his wife, Lori, have worked as linguists with Wycliffe. During that time, they’ve lived in the Philippines, Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Kenya, and will soon be heading to Canada to teach at the Canada Institute of Linguistics. To find out more, read about how Bill has applied his skills in “Engineering Translation.”

Source: Wycliffe USA

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Dorothy’s story

A simple gathering, like attending a literacy class, can sometimes be a source of unexpected riches for the soul.

Dorothy had turned her back on God when her husband died several years ago and she no longer attended church services. She was one of nine women who attended the initial Owa Bible based literacy class in 2012 held in Gupuna village on Santa Anna island, of whom six were trained to become literacy teachers themselves. These women then held classes, teaching other women and young girls how to read and write in their own language, Owa.

The body of Christ prayed for Dorothy that as she attended these Bible based literacy classes she would learn how to read the Owa language Bible and draw near to God again.

Three churches were represented in this training class and there the six teachers were trained in how to teach Owa Bible based literacy classes to youth and adults. Dorothy had never been to school before and could not read or write at all but she willingly attended every class.

Among the students who participated in the training, Dorothy was very keen to learn to read. She showed the most progress out of all the students who attended the literacy class.

As she began to read for the first time in her life, the Word of God led Dorothy to experience the loving and healing power of God. Dorothy shared with a huge smile, “I can read now! When I read my Bible in my own language I understand it and it really speaks straight into my life. Now I have given my life to God and I go to church”.

Dorothy said reading her Owa language Bible every night helps her learn many things that she never knew were in God’s Word. It led her into amazing new discoveries about God and the things that He can do in the lives of those who believe in Him. The truth from God’s Word is a treasure that she can now pass on to other Owa speakers.


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Literacy is …
How does literacy work?

Literacy initiatives may vary from local programs, such as community or church-based literacy efforts, to NGO-sponsored programs or national government campaigns. Programs may be limited in scope or have broader holistic goals which may include health and community development objectives. Programs must also take into account that multiple languages are spoken in most communities today.

What are language communities looking for? What do they want to know? Questions come from diverse sectors worldwide by people involved in education, community development, churches, government agencies, local community leadership, NGOs and various other organizations. They want to know how they can

  • create a writing system and alphabet for an unwritten local language
  • create teaching materials for a multilingual context
  • train people so they can teach in a community-based project
  • use certain kinds of technology to produce materials
  • teach people to read and write in their own language.

The goal is to build locally sustainable literacy programs to equip minority language communities to be able to use and preserve their language, their history and their wisdom.

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Bible translation
The “dvu” story

Translator Lee Bramlett was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people? What clue had He planted to let the Hdi know who He is and how He wants to relate to them?

Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for love. Lee and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Lee asked the translation committee, including the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?” Lee asked. Everyone laughed.

“Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.

“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of Me and not because of you.”

God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, and not a mean and scary spirit, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and twenty-nine thousand speakers will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church.…” I invite you to pray for them as they absorb and seek to model the amazing, unconditional love they have received.

As God’s Word is translated around the world, people are gaining access to this great love story about how God ‘dvu’-d us enough to sacrifice his unique Son for us, so that our relationship with Him can be ordered and oriented correctly. The cross changes everything! Someday, the last word of the last bit of Scripture for the last community will be done, and everyone will be able to understand the story of God’s unconditional love.

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Translation is …
What does it mean to translate?

The process of translating the Bible for people who have never had it in their own language requires an understanding of their way of life. Only through that understanding can we properly communicate the complex, powerful concepts found in the Bible.

For example, we are called to love God with all of our hearts, and we often talk about accepting Jesus “into our hearts.” But in many cultures around the world, the heart is not considered the center of the emotions. Consider the Awa people of Papua New Guinea, who express feelings and importance with the liver. They wouldn’t say “I love you with all of my heart”; they would say something along the lines of “I love you with all of my liver.”

Cultural context aside, we must also consider the many complexities of language. For example, some languages have multiple ways to describe something that may be a single-word concept in English, while other languages may not have a word for that concept at all. And some languages take entirely different forms, like those that are whistled or signed. (There are nearly 400 different sign languages in the world, and most of them are without any part of the Bible!)

All of these factors help explain why Bible translation takes so much time, dedication and personal investment. And in the end, nothing can replace that personal connection.

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Scripture Use
The Bible in action

The Scriptures have been translated into thousands of the world’s languages. In many cases, the people speaking those languages have also been taught to read in their mother tongue – with the result, technically, that they can read the Bible in their own language. But merely reading is not enough. A person needs to know how to use the Bible to catalyze life changes, much as one needs to know the use of a tool in a workshop in order to turn out a desired product. This is where the ministry of Scripture Use, in connection with Bible translation, is so important.

Scripture use is more than merely reading the Bible with comprehension. There are so many ways in which the Scripture can and should be applied to life – in all areas of life. Scripture use is about unlocking possibilities for people. It is about taking many different approaches employing many different media with many different partners: through chronological Bible storying, dramatized audio recordings and film. It is about applying the truths and principles of Scripture to real life situations: healing the trauma of war; dealing with HIV/AIDS, health, relationships, personal and church growth. It is about creativity: music and drama used for worship in appropriate cultural forms.

(from wycliffe.net)

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Scripture use is …
Such a great song

‘I’m so happy!’ Sam exclaimed, with a huge smile on his face. ‘The way you showed us to write songs worked! I went to bed early last night, since we had no electricity, and so I got up early this morning. I did what you said. I read Psalm 42.4-6, and translated it into my language.

‘Remember how we looked together at the characteristics of our local mountain poetry? Well, I wrote these verses from Psalm 42 as a poem in our own local style, and then made up a melody to go with it. Over breakfast I sang it to my wife. “Where on earth did you find such a great mountain-style song?!” she exclaimed. “This is what we’ve been learning to do at the workshop,” I told her.’

The workshop was a Scripture song-writing workshop, and the participants were from a people group living in the mountains of Central Asia. Sam and his people had no access to any of the Bible in their own language and live in a region that is very difficult to get to. Sam is a well-known local musician who used to sing in a popular local folkgroup.

During this Scripture song-writing workshop, the participants wrote and recorded, in three different local genres, ‘mountain-style’ Scripture songs – from Mark 10.13-16 (Jesus blesses the children), Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) and Genesis 22 (Abraham and Isaac). These are the very first Scripture-based products these people are receiving in their own language. A draft recording was made of each of the new songs in order to preserve them and to assist in recording them later in a studio, with skilled local instrumentalists.

In the three months following the workshop Sam went on to write a total of 13 new Scripture-based songs. Along with friends he used to perform with, some of the language community’s best musicians, he recorded them in a studio. These beautiful songs were very well received.

Sam clearly understood how to make new songs in the style of his people, so he was invited to assist in leading a song-creation workshop in a neighboring Central Asian country. What he had learnt he passed on to others, helping musicians from three different language communities write their own brand new Scripture-based songs.

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As an accountant

Simon is a young insurance salesman. Two years ago, he spent several months as a financial mentor in East Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya). How did he experience that time?

The weeks were extremely exciting. Two highlights were certainly the two dedication ceremonies of the New Testaments in the Logoti and Mayogo languages. But there was also a lot of work. I discussed a lot of theory with the African co-workers, had to improve a lot of things, often had to keep my nerve and show patience. It was not always easy. The cultural differences are huge. But it was nice to see how seriously the staff took everything I taught them. I could pass on a lot and, conversely, I learned a lot from them. I was especially happy to see how people opened their hearts to me. They became my friends. I felt during this time that I was in the right place.

Even today, Simon often thinks about his assignment in Africa. His conclusion: Such a mission changes your life! Don’t be afraid of the unknown, because God is with you and will never lose sight of you.

These short term internships are possible all the time (at least in normal circumstances), in various areas, especially in Africa and Asia.

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Training is …
Why this training?

Wycliffe Switzerland supports the Theological College in Northern Nigeria. What are the benefits of this training?

A student of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria:

The education here at the school challenges me academically and spiritually. The spiritual is the bridge to the academic. I’m learning not only theory but also practice: I was able to do 1:1 fieldwork in the Jenjo language and discover new things. I’ve never been able to do that so concretely! The modest knowledge I gained from this now serves as a “reference book” for other interested Jenjo speakers! I also had the opportunity to give a talk about it at the 10th birthday of the Linguistics Circle in Jos.

I am learning an enormous amount at this university. The lectures and the exercises are very useful. The translation principles I have learned enable me to be of help to the translation team even now, still in the middle of my training. The Jenjo team does not hesitate to contact me if there are any questions about translation. I am present for drafts and proofreading within the team, I help with the interpretation of difficult Bible passages, and I check the texts myself under the guidance of an experienced consultant.


Othaniel, a Jenjo speaker himself, achieved a bachelor’s degree and added a master’s in language description and development. His goal is to continue working on the Jenjo team and later teach at the university.

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In all the tasks that our coworkers have in the countries of operation, the training and further education of local colleagues is central. The goal is for them to take over more and more of the entire work in their country and carry it out themselves.

The Bible is a closed book – until people know how to read it. The Bible is just like any other book – until people understand and are transformed by its message. The question is not “Can I grasp the Bible in my own language?” but  “Having the Bible in my own language, does it have a grasp on me?”

When people finally get the Bible in their own language, lives often change in amazing ways. People are transformed as they are led to Jesus Christ and a right relationship with God. That’s why Wycliffe exists — to help speakers of all languages get the Bible for themselves.

Imagine not being able to read the instructions on your child’s medicine bottle, legal documents for your property, receipts for your business transactions. Imagine not being able to read a letter from your best friend. Imagine not being able to read the Bible…

Language and culture research is foundational work on which everything else builds. Language analysis provides the insights necessary for a good orthography of the language. The study of key cultural terms is indispensable for accurate translation into the language in question.