Even Before We Had A Chance To Ask

By Tom Castor | October 30, 2021 |

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Why Does it Take So Long?” It discussed the realities of translation and featured a summary of Emily Lupfer’s article: “5 Reasons Why Google Can’t Translate the Bible.”

As I was telling someone about our newest translation projects for Afghanistan, those same questions were raised. “Why don’t you just paste it into Google translate and you’d be done in 10 minutes?” Thankfully, I was able to suppress my gift of sarcasm and swallow the “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?” which was on its way through my vocal cords. The fact is, unless one has been elbows deep in such a project, it is hard to imagine what is involved. Yes, we do write anticipating machine translation and we feel that translation by Artificial Intelligence is an asset. We have done multiple tests of our material using AI tools like Google, Yandex, Bing, Babel, and Reverso. In most cases, we have found that the translations are up to 96-98% accurate – but that 4% or so makes a significant difference. And while that is a very high accuracy rate, being technically correct is not quite enough when actual readers are involved. “Yes. That is correct. But no one would say it that way,” is not the response we are hoping for. That is why we work very hard to find a trained translator.

One of the challenges is identifying a competent translator who not only knows the language, but also understands the theological material. He or she must also know the implications of word choices and be sensitive to nuances that can bias a reader in unecessary ways. This is even more complicated when one language is spoken in mutiple dialects.

To provide you with a “taste” of the process, here is a piece of correspondence with a potential translator that is representative of many that we have written.

My research on (language) is limited, but I know that there are dialect decisions to make moving forward. I will need to trust your expertise on the choices. My goal is to make the book available/acceptable to the greatest number of (language) speakers/readers. The book will likely go to print in the future, but will be available for electronic distribution almost immediately after it goes through final edits.

As we discussed, there is a process of blind back-translation that will follow the initial drafts. As you know, this means that we give the translation to someone who is also fluent in (language) and ask him or her to put the document back into English with no reference to the original. After we discuss the variations and decide what grammar and word choices need further work, we can proceed. This can be annoying and adds to the timeline, but I know that we all want to be as clear and precise as possible.

Do not worry too much about the author/publisher names in the introductory pages. Those normally get “scrubbed” for various reasons before the book goes to print.

So, there are many things that must be considered when we take on a translation project like the ones we have just agreed to. One of the ways that we see God’s hand in the new Dari and Pashto projects for the people of Afghanistan is the translator that God has provided. Shoaib Abadi, our translator, was born and raised in Kabul, where he studied Law and worked for the UN Refugee Agency. He immigrated to Canada where he received his theological training while apprenticing under Pastor Bruce Martin, a trusted friend of mine. Soon after, Shoaib founded Hope for Afghanistan, a ministry to reach Afghans with the gospel and disciple them in the scriptures. He is also the Executive Director of Square One World Media.

We have had many answers to prayer over the years at Clear and Simple Media. This one, the provision of the ideal translator for the Dari and Pashto projects, is a prayer God answered even before we had a chance to ask.

Tom Castor

Thomas Castor, founder of Clear and Simple Media Group, is a seasoned writer and communicator who has been delivering content with clarity and simplicity for 30 years.