ISLET supports sign language Bible translation

By April 18, 2019

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below was submitted by Deaf Bible Society.]

International (DBS) —Deaf Bible Society (DBS), a non-profit organization that supports Bible translation work in Deaf communities around the globe, has a straightforward mission: God’s Word in Every Sign Language. But DBS faced some obstacles to this mission related to language and training. First, it was unclear exactly how many sign languages existed. Second, many Deaf people who worked to translate the Bible into their own sign languages did not have enough training. Third, there was a shortage of skilled consultants and translation resources in sign languages to support quality checking for the parts of the Bible being translated into various sign languages.

DBS took action to collaboratively address these barriers for Deaf Christians working to translate God’s Word. In July of 2018, DBS launched the Institute for Sign Language Engagement and Training (ISLET), a team with expertise in translation, curriculum development, and linguistics. The Institute’s aim is to research sign languages, provide training to translators, and raise up more consultants to support the sign language Bible translation movement.

ISLET conducts language research to address the question, “How many sign languages exist around the world?” In partnership with other non-profits involved in Bible translation, ISLET has developed Aveditz, a collaborative research tool that compiles information about all of the known sign languages of the world. This makes it easier for people to see which Deaf communities have access to the Gospel in a language they understand well, and which communities still need to be engaged. ISLET also partners with local Deaf communities who want to study their sign languages and answer questions like “How many sign languages are used in our country?” or “Could our community understand a Bible translation filmed in a far-away city?” By engaging in language research, ISLET helps DBS and its partners measure progress in seeing God’s Word made available in every sign language.

In addition to language research, ISLET trains Bible translators working on sign language projects. In late summer of 2019, ISLET is launching the Josiah School of Translation. Through this program, Bible translators will develop practical skills to support their translation work including principles for interpreting the Bible, administrative skills, translation principles, the linguistic structure of their sign languages, and advanced video production skills. Each of these areas will equip translation teams to produce Bible translations that fully communicate the richness of God’s Word in ways that are most meaningful to Deaf communities. Over the course of three years, teams will receive six months of training, positioning them to thrive in the long term.

Finally, ISLET prepares qualified translation consultants to provide accessible support and feedback to Deaf translation teams. Before any video of a translated Bible portion can be published, it must go through a quality checking process guided by a translation consultant. If there are no consultants available for this checking, new translation projects cannot start, and active translation projects are delayed. Currently, one of the biggest roadblocks to sign language Bible translation work – impacting teams from Asia to the Americas – is the shortage of consultants who are proficient in at least one of the world’s sign languages. ISLET is developing training and assessments that will equip consultants to provide quality support to translation teams. Additionally, ISLET is collaborating with other Bible translation stakeholders to develop specialized software that supports the Bible translation task and improves communication between consultants and translation teams.

By innovating and engaging with Deaf communities, ISLET’s work fosters academic rigour and bolsters Bible translations that are grounded in the realities of each language context and communicate clearly to Deaf communities. Addressing Bible translation barriers related to language and training brings Deaf Bible Society one step closer to seeing God’s Word in Every Sign Language, accomplishing the Great Commission call of DBS and its partners.



Header and story images courtesy of Deaf Bible Society.

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