Accessible Translation: Understandest thou what thou readest?

Posted on: 
July 22, 2022

(The Importance of Using Familiar Language)

At All-Nations, one of our translation values is accessibility: translating into familiar, present-day language. This goes beyond the obvious choice to translate into the Mixtec language for Mixtec-speaking people. It refers to the words and expressions used in the translation.

Current vocabulary

As a general rule, a translation team aims to use the current generation’s common vocabulary. A translator in Papua New Guinea told us, “Our team aims for the lingo of people 30 to 40 years old.” Like they do with English, teenagers tend to use slang terms that are not appropriate for written texts. In smaller languages with rapidly shifting vocabulary, older people may still use terms that feel outdated.

An All-Nations translator preparing to work on the Sungai Scriptures in Southeast Asia commented, “I think it's important that our Bible translation targets the young and middle-aged (20-40 years) section of Sungai society. Older Sungai people's speech is outdated and not used much by the younger generation.”

This approach is important if we want a translation to be accepted and effective in reaching people’s hearts.

Normal speech

We could think that the Bible should use language that sounds special and feels elevated and profound. If God is high and holy, reading His Word in high and formal language almost feels appropriate, doesn’t it?

But God is intimately involved in each person’s life. His Word speaks to our daily walk. Our Christian experience is just as alive and present on the job or in the kitchen as when we are at church. The things of God are part of our everyday speech.

Still, many of us struggle to use normal speech in our prayers or in church. A Bible that uses everyday English may sound strange if we grew up using the King James Version, whose language was last updated about 250 years ago. We may subconsciously expect God to use special-sounding language in His Word.

When you think about it, no one speaking English today would say, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And no one translating into modern English would even think of putting such an expression in evangelist Philip’s mouth. Similarly, when teams translate Philip’s question to the eunuch, whether in Mixtec or Sungai, they want the result to sound just as normal as “Do you understand what you are reading?” sounds to us.

We seek to translate the Bible using language that is both current and normal.

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10