Back Translation & Village Checking Workshop

[Editor’s Note: To understand the complexity of running a workshop here in Papua New Guinea like that described below, read Part One of this two-part story. To appreciate the importance of running a national training program like this, you must realize that in the 36 years that Pioneer Bible Translators has worked in PNG, we have only finished translating the New Testament in two languages, and have three more that are close to being done. So training nationals will speed up this process and give us the breakthrough in Bible translation that we have been praying about for a long time.]


“On the 13th of July, PBT-PNG ventured into a new territory; not a geographical one but a training one. We began planning for this workshop over two years ago. The workshop was held at the SIL Pacific Orientation Course Center on Nobonob Mountain just outside of Madang. It involved 41 men and women from 9 different language groups that PBT works with here in PNG.

“Some of these translation projects are nearing the completion of the New Testament and others are just starting out. It was good for the more experienced national translators to have interaction with the “new people on the block.” The new translators could learn how experienced ones tackle problems that they have in translation. They also were an encouragement to each other and they realized that they were not in this alone.”

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“Half of the participants were in the Village Checking side of the course where they worked at taking the vernacular rough draft translation and checked it against the Tok Pisin Bible. They checked for improper translation, missing information or added information. Then they did revisions to the draft. Some of the newer guys were amazed at the amount of revising that takes place. Then that second draft was sent to the people that were in the Back Translation part of the course.

“The other half of the participants were in the Back Translation group where they worked at making a literal translation back into Tok Pisin from the vernacular. This work later provides the consultant a clear view of what the translation is actually saying. Otherwise, the consultant who has come to do the final check of the translation would have to be fluent in the vernacular.

“After the Back Translation group was finished with that, they sent their work back over to the Village Checking group. The Village Checking group looked over the Tok Pisin back translation to see if it matched what was being said in the vernacular. If it didn’t, then revisions had to be made to the back translation. Then the Village Checking group made questions in the vernacular language concerning the section of text that they were working on.”

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“These include the basic 5W (and H) questions of Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? These questions will be the basis for checking the Scriptures in the village. They will gather some people out in the village who have not been involved in the translation and read the passages to them in the vernacular and then ask them these questions.

“It is important to ask these comprehension questions to see if the meaning of the text is coming through, and if the vernacular translation sounds natural to the people. If the answers they get back show good comprehension, then the section passes the village checking phase. If not, then more revisions need to be made to fix the text.

“Previously, it was typical for these village checking sessions to be run by the PBT missionaries. But now that we have a shortage of missionaries, we are trying to train the nationals to run these sessions. This workshop provided a practical means of teaching our national co-workers in this task of bringing God’s Word to the peoples of Papua New Guinea.”

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Fun Facts from the Workshop

41 nationals

21 missionaries and interns

180 dozen eggs

441 pounds of rice (before cooking)

1,014 pounds of flour

100+ pineapples

25 watermelons


[Editor’s Closing Note: thanks go out to the missionary couple who wrote this story and who were actively involved in this National Translators’ Training Course in 2010. Their project is still one of the “younger” translations that would traditionally have many years ahead of them to see the New Testament translated into the local language. But thanks to courses like these, national men and women from that language group are being equipped to see their project advance at a much faster pace.

As a Translation Consultant, I very much appreciate courses like these that hone the skills of the missionary translators, and advance the skills of the national translators. This means that when the biblical text comes to me, along with the English or Tok Pisin back translation, I can expect to see greater quality in the translated text. That will make my job easier.

Ultimately, the goal is to get the Word of God into the hands of the people in their own mother tongue language. With trained missionaries and equipped national translators working together, we are going to see more Scriptures getting into the people’s hands that much faster. And for that, we all give praise and thanks to our God who has called us all in this task to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.]