What is a Translation Brief?
There are so many steps to translating the bible into a new language, but drafting a translation brief is one of the first and most important. Here's what's involved and why it's critical to the success of the project.
Translation By the Community, For the Community
In order to understand why a project needs a translation brief, we first need to ask: Why does this language community need a translation at all?
One of the foundational pieces of bible translation is called scripture engagement. It's the measure of how the community engages with the translation - in church, in bible studies, in the home, and in evangelism. No one wants to pour time and resources into a translation project only to have the finished product sit unused! Instead, we are intentional about planning scripture engagement.
In order for the community to fully engage with the finished translation, they need to engage with the project from the beginning. A translation brief involves clearly stating why the community wants a translation and how they plan achieve their goals for its completion and subsequent use. It's written by language community members, including the proposed translation team, church leaders, and partnering organizations.
When the end users of a translation own the translation brief, scripture engagement happens naturally.
What the Translation Brief Does
A translation brief serves as a road map for the bible translation project. It includes:
the scope of the translation: e.g., Luke's gospel, one testament, or the entire bible
the function of the translation: what it will be used for once completed
who is involved: translators, consultants, advisors, field partners
the target audience: the end users of the translation
the type of translation: written, oral, or sign language
source language texts and references: original Greek and Hebrew texts are always the authoritative source, but other translations already used by the target audience or in a related language may be used for reference
partner responsibilities: who will accomplish what
Also called a project brief, this document can be referred to throughout the project to keep the many moving pieces aligned to the original scope and goals. Some team members (such as consultants or outside partners) may change over the lifespan on the project and the brief is a great way to orient new participants and maintain consistency.
What the Translation Brief Doesn't Do
The brief does not tell the translators how to translate. The same way a map shows different ways to reach the desired destination, the brief gives general guidance that allows the translators to make their own informed decisions.
This guidance includes research about the community's background knowledge of biblical contexts, interaction with other translations available, literacy levels, and scripture engagement plans. But all of these factors are still guidelines - it is up to the translation team to decide how to be consistent to those guidelines in their translation.
On the other hand, a translation brief isn't eternally rigid. There are rare times when a translation brief may need to be revised. Either a project did not begin with a clear translation brief at the outset, or has run into problems carrying out its original plan. In these cases, the language community needs to come back to the brief to assess how realistic their goals are and whether there are better methods of achieving them. It may take a lot of work to revise a translation brief with so many players involved, but it's better to realize and correct the path in the middle rather than ending up with an unusable translation.
A Translation Brief Makes an Eternal Difference
The bible translation model is still changing, but the goal of bringing God's Word to every language has always been the same. A translation brief is one part of the puzzle which places the Scriptures squarely in the hands of those who need it - from beginning to end.
Although the translation brief is the beginning of the project, the end result is lives changed forever by his Word.