The Check’s in the Mail

Getting a Check

Everyone likes to receive a check, right? A juicy IRS refund, a 75-cent Eveready Energizer rebate you sent in 15 weeks ago (and totally forgot about), a surprise disbursement from an oil well that an unknown great uncle in Texas left in his will…

Well this week we’re getting a check… a TRANSLATION CHECK! Mmm hmmm. Not quite the same as getting money in the mail, but more valuable in the end, I reckon. Read on.

So what’s a Translation Check? Why have one? And how does it work?

Those are good questions (thanks, I made ’em up myself, ha! but hey, some of you were probably wondering the same things.) So here we go…

What’s a Translation Check?
There are two important parts to each check: 1)determining that the translation says all, only and exactly what it is supposed to say; and 2)making sure that this intended meaning is what is actually understood by a Palawano listener/reader.

Why have a Translation Check?
Another check? I mean, haven’t we been checking and checking the translation all along?! Sure, we check and recheck and test the translation multiple times before this final consultant check. Each chapter goes through many steps over a period of months, adding up to 15 or more hours of work per chapter on an average. Along the way, both of us (Bill and Donna) work on the project, along with input from our partners, and the regular involvement of a dozen or so Palawanos and the part time participation of dozens of others. We’re a team. It takes time. We don’t just sit down, “crank out a verse” and say, “There! Looks good!”

So why do we need yet another check? Well, first of all, each and every time we go over the draft and recheck it, we learn things. How to phrase something better. How to communicate a concept a little more clearly. And we nearly always find portions (a word, phrase or more) which are misunderstood and need to be fixed! You just cannot be too careful. And so one more, thorough check, with an objective translation consultant helping you to see the translation through eyes which have not been staring at the draft for months as yours have, is not something to avoid. It’s a blessing.

To me, avoiding a check would be like saying, “Naw, I don’t wanna go to the doctor. They might find out I’m sick and prescribe medicine that would make me well. I sure don’t want somebody telling me I’m sick.”

No translation will ever be perfect (there, I admit it.) But each careful procedural step, each check, by God’s grace, will move the final result even just a bit closer to that elusive goal.

How Does it Work?
This is probably the most common question people ask us: How can a consultant who does not know Palawano check your translation? Well, truth is, they don’t… WE do. “We” in this case being the consultant, me, some Palawanos and the Spirit of God. It’s a team effort.

Of course, the consultant cannot read my Palawano draft, point out problems in the verb forms, note awkward syntax or a potential misunderstanding a particular adjective. They can’t even read it at all. So what do they do?

The consultant asks me to read the book section by section to a Palawano. But this person cannot be one of those Palawanos who has helped us in the earlier steps. Those faithful coworkers have spent hours with us discussing the meaning and pondering how to render it in their language. They are therefore not objective. They most likely already know what the passage is supposed to mean from our prior discussions and not from hearing the passage read. That proves nothing except, perhaps, that I taught them well.

So I read a portion to this “fresh” Palawano listener. Then we ask them to tell back, as best they can, the main idea, all the key points, the gist of the passage. Can they give back the basic theme line? No details at all? Tons of details? Did they get it main point or focus instead on what should be a minor one? Did they understand something in a completely wrong way? Little by little, we ask more and more questions, working down to finer details to see just exactly what they understand when they hear those words.

Here’s how it goes. The consultant asks… I translate the question… the Palawano answers (and I write feverishly)… I translate the answer back to the consultant. She asks a follow-up. And so on. She knows what the passage is supposed to mean, what it should say to the hearer. So that’s what we’re listening for.

Yes, it’s a long and tedious process. Tiring for all of us. But well worth it. Most of the time, actually, things check out fine, thanks to the careful procedures and checking we’ve already done. But it’s those few remaining problems we find which make it all worthwhile. Now that they’ve been discovered, they can be fixed. And those portions will be retested, until confirmed.

This is actually called a “comprehension check” and we do several of these ourselves, earlier in the procedure. But this final one, mediated by an objective consultant who has not been a part of the process, is vital. This also allows the mission to verify without question that we have done all things as they should be done, that the translation has been verified. They don’t want us printing books of rough drafts and calling them Bibles, you know. The seriousness of the task demands us all to be responsible… and honest.

Cashing Checks
So just like those endorsable items that come in the mail, we clear a profit from this kind of check, too. We don’t go the ATM and make a deposit, but we incorporate all the insights we gained before publishing yet another portion of God’s Word and handing it to the Palawano church. And usually, in each check we learn things we can apply right up front in the process of translation the next book. And the one after that.

Pray for us… with us. Like I said, it’s a tedious process. Mentally exhausting is the kind way to describe it. But don’t pray that we won’t find it tiring, but that God enables us to do the best job possible.

The Palawano helper gets tired, too… sometimes from thinking so hard, but often just from sitting in a chair all day. They’re not used to that.

But often, during the check itself, their face will light up. Some new spiritual truth has just found its way to their heart. God’s Word, even while being “checked,” has spoken to them. It is His Word after all, you know. And part of it just reached the Palawanos for the first time.

Forget the ATM and those Eveready rebates. I’ll take this kind of deposit any day.


About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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