Research uncharted language areas to understand key needs

Long before a Bible translation project begins, surveyors map language areas to find out which communities need Bible translations. They ask:

  • What languages are spoken, and who speaks them?
  • Which dialects might use the same translation? In 20 years’ time, which languages will still be in use?
  • Who would be key partners in a translation project?
  • Would the community prefer to use printed Bibles, audio Bibles or something else?

To research these things, language assessors (or surveyors) travel extensively throughout a language area, typically collecting word lists and interviewing local people in an attempt to understand the language situation. Factors such as comprehension and attitudes towards other language varieties are key when determining translation needs.

Language assessment is an enormous job: hundreds, if not thousands, of the world's 7,099 languages still need to be surveyed to assess their need for Bible translation. The vast majority of these languages have never been written.

Language assessment is at the cutting edge of frontier missions, and is often the first step in a long process of seeing God's message of love translated into languages and lives.

Surveyors use scientific research methods, the results of which can not only benefit Bible translation, but other agencies interested in minority language communities. They must work long hours under often rugged conditions, but the experience opens up a whole new world of discovery!

You may have some of these skills already. Others can be learnt over time. The training offered by the the Centre for Linguistics, Translation and Literacy will give you the tools you need for language and culture learning to help you as you research different language groups.