David Ker on literacy vs. Bible translation
While David previously was with Wycliffe Bible Translators and an unabashed supporter of Bible translations, even into languages with relatively few readers, now he is focused on improving literacy and getting a broad variety of books into the hands of readers.
In a recent newspaper profile, David accurately diagnoses the problem with the now almost mechanical process of translating the Bible into languages where there are almost no readers:
“I thought it [Wycliffe Bible translation] was a pretty clear process,” Ker said. “I work with Mozambicans to translate the Bible, and then when we’re finished anyone who wants one can have a Bible of their own.”
Now, he knows that’s not usually how the process works. The Bibles get translated, but then the Bible agencies can take years to get them printed, and usually in small numbers. Once they are printed, the Bibles aren’t always distributed in the area where the language is spoken.
“Or people get a copy of the Bible, but do not know how to read it,” Ker said.
Though he still respects what Wycliffe Bible Translators does and considers it to be a great organization, he felt his talents could be used elsewhere.
“As [Ker’s wife] Hilary and I considered how we might best serve in Africa in the coming years, we’ve become convinced that we have a contribution to make in the area of literacy,” Ker said.
I’m very supportive of this recent change of heart of David Ker’s – and I absolutely agree that efforts to translate the Bible into small minority languages – where most people are not even literate – simply do not make sense. Instead, I would rather see an effort to build up general and education literacy rates. It simply makes no sense to make more systemized efforts to make mediocre translations of the Bible into language where there are few readers.
As of 2011, the Bible had reportedly been translated into 2,527 languages, with that year seeing only 10 new languages seeing a full translation and 27 seeing a partial translation. Wycliffe rakes in the money big time: although it is just one of several Bible translation organizations, it reports $146 million/year in contributions and $111 million/year in contributions (putting it into the stratosphere of the top 100 US charities) – and yet even if it were responsible for all new Bible translation, it would at best only be able to claim ten full new translations.
This amount of money, with such limited results, raises natural questions.
In Mozambique, the country in which David worked in Bible translation, teacher salaries range from $72 – $243 each month and it has a super-low literacy rate of 56%. Likely most of those 56% percent are among the 50.4% who speak Portuguese – a language with numerous Bible translations. Efforts to translate the Bible into minority languages – where there are almost no readers – are bound to be of dubious value.
Congratulations to David on refocusing his efforts on the big problem: literacy.