Why quality work matters in sign language Bible translation

By June 21, 2023

International (MNN) — Of the 350 sign languages used by Deaf communities worldwide, only one has a complete Bible. Mark Sorenson, one of DOOR International’s American Deaf leaders, says most Deaf people are used to being overlooked and disconnected.

“Many Deaf people have grown up missing information and incidental learning because they can’t hear what’s going on in their environment, where people are working in spoken English,” Sorenson says.

“There’s a hunger for transparent, authentic communication and understanding.”

DOOR is one of several organizations working to produce sign language Bible translations. More about that here. Quality is of the utmost importance because if a translation is poorly done or contains mistakes, Deaf communities reject it.

“We want to make sure that [the Scripture is] fully translated and doesn’t have errors or omissions because that breaks the trust, and we’re going to lose people who aren’t willing to watch at that point,” Sorenson explains.

“When [Deaf people] feel like they’re missing something, they feel left out. It creates an issue of trust for them that harkens back to being left out of hearing spaces.”

CANA: a sign of success

A four-step checklist ensures success. “We use the acronym CANA to identify a quality translation – clear, accurate, natural, and acceptable,” Sorenson says.

First, “we want to make sure that the signing is clear and not used casually or sloppily,” he continues.

“We have certified consultants who work in Hebrew and Greek and know the linguistics behind those ancient languages that we’re translating to ensure an accurate translation.”

Third, the on-screen signer must be fluent in the sign language of that particular translation. For example, a person signing the American Sign Language Version must be articulate in American Sign Language.

Deaf believers working on a portion of the Kenya Sign Language Chronological Bible Translation.
(Photo courtesy of DOOR International)

“We want the translation to be performed naturally; we want it to be used by native language users,” Sorenson says.

“We want to feature somebody who’s using their everyday language so that it’s comfortable for people who use that language every day to watch.”

Finally, a sign language Bible translation must be acceptable.

“We want somebody who uses that sign language to say, ‘Yes, that is my language, and that (signing) feels right. That identifies with the way I communicate every day,” Sorenson says.

Learn more about Deaf needs here. Ask the Lord to provide workers for the harvest.

“There are 70 million Deaf people worldwide, and less than two percent know Christ. Of the two percent of Deaf Christians, how can we find quality people to do the translations?” Sorenson says.

“It’s incredibly difficult to find somebody who signs fluently, who knows Jesus, and can do this work.”




In the header image, a consultant checks the work of DOOR’s sign language Bible translation partners in Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of DOOR International)