The Importance of Language Assessment

November 29, 2010 in Wycliffe, Bible translation, Language, Mission, Tanzania

From 2004 to 2006 I was working in Tanzania as a Language Assessor, helping to research minority languages so that church and community leaders could make informed decisions about Bible translation projects in their area. I’ve just produced a short video for a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK meeting tomorrow about what Language Assessment is, so I thought I’d share that here…

Zambia: Kwangwa Language Survey

June 8, 2010 in Prayer, Wycliffe

This post is a continuation from my diary of the first week of the trip – Zambia: Language Survey Workshop


We travelled a couple of hours along the sandy road to Nalikwanda, which we thought was near the centre of the Kwangwa area, but when we got there we found that actually most people speak Lozi as much if not more than Kwangwa. We had the chance to sit and chat with some people and to conduct a couple of group interviews with them, before travelling back to Mongu to reflect on our first day of survey.

Clifford digs out the car after we get stuck in the sand on the way to Nalikwanda

Donald is ready to question passers-by about their languages!


Today we headed back to Nalikwanda, and then a bit further towards the village of Lukweta. In Lukweta the people seem to speak more Kwangwa, but Lozi is still strong. The people we met suggested that we continue a bit further on the road however, so we went as far as the villages of Namang’anga and Silili, where we finally found people who are really speaking Kwangwa as their first language rather than Lozi. It seems that this is the (or a) heartland of the Kwangwa language, although there are probably speakers in other areas of Western Province too, possibly in Senanga and other Districts.

On the sandy road again…

Donald and Progress, deep in thought

A reminder of God’s faithfulness

Listening to a story from another village

After speaking with people in these two villages we recorded a couple of stories and headed back home. Eventually, after getting stuck for over an hour we got back to eat and debrief at 11:15pm, finally getting to bed around 1am.

Clifford digs us out again


After a hard day yesterday we stayed in Mongu today to think and plan ahead, and also to try to get permission from the King for the work we’re doing and hoping to do. We weren’t able to get an appointment with his Prime Minister today, so it seems we’ll have to do that tomorrow.


We headed out again, this time going east on the Lusaka road, before heading 40km south to a couple of villages. We talked with people in these places, asking them many questions about the languages they speak, as well as collecting a 280-word list and playing a couple of stories we’d previously recorded in other villages. It seems like this area and where we were on Tuesday are probably the heartland of the Kwangwa people and their language, although there are also Kwangwa villages in other districts of Western Province, some of which are many hours drive away.

People in the village of Mululumi

James and Progress collecting a word-list

As we got back to phone coverage we found that we’d been given an appointment with the Prime Minister, which we had missed… not a good start, but hopefully we’ll be able to meet with him tomorrow.

Driving back through the bush


Some of the guys went to meet with the Prime Minister, while I looked around the small Lozi museum – a fascinating place that documents the Lozi people and their kings for the past 250 years or more. The meeting went very well, and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are very happy for us to continue with language research and potentially translating the Bible into several languages in Western Province. One commented that “We cannot object, because if we do we may find that we are fighting against God”.

In the afternoon we had a debrief session for the survey, reflecting on what went well and what we would do differently in future, and what the next steps should be in surveying the languages of the Province. After that we briefly visited the UCZ (United Church in Zambia) Bishop in Mongu, who has kindly allowed the project to use an office on his premises. He seems like a very wise and humble man, and was very encouraging about the potential translation projects here.

The language survey team at the end of the week


The survey is now finished, so we had a day of finishing practical things before I leave for Livingstone early tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to being back at home with Laura, but have also thoroughly enjoyed this trip and being back in rural Africa. It has been a privilege to work with such a great group of guys, and I’m confident that they can finish the Kwangwa survey on their own and go on to survey other languages of Western Province.


I left Mongu at 7am with a couple of ladies who were driving to Livingstone. In the light the journey only took 11 hours, and certainly seemed a lot quicker than on the way! We spent the night at a campsite next to the huge and incredible Zambezi River… together with 24 car-loads of Dutch football fans who are driving from the Netherlands to South Africa for the World Cup!

Monday / Tuesday

After 24 hours I arrived back at London Heathrow via World Cup mad Johannesburg and Munich, excited to see Laura again! It’s been a long two weeks apart, but we’re both grateful for what God has done in the time, and also the things that he has taught us.

Please continue to pray for the Kwangwa people and speakers of other languages in Zambia’s Western Province who don’t yet have the Bible. And please also remember to pray for the workers in Mongu as they seek to come alongside these communities, helping them to translate the Bible and to give God’s life-giving story to those who don’t yet have it in their own language.

Another beautiful sunset in Mongu

Zambia: Language Survey Workshop

June 2, 2010 in Prayer, Wycliffe


Arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, via Frankfurt and Johannesburg, after running around Johannesburg airport for a while trying to find my bag and then finding that it was already on the plane. Met James and Jess who I’ll be staying with are who are coordinating the start of a translation project for some of the language groups in Western Province. They took me to visit Victoria Falls which was incredible, although it was pretty hard to see very much because of all the spray. Got very wet, but managed to get a few photos. I think I saw more water in 20 minutes than I’d seen in 3 years in Tanzania…

Victoria Falls

The incredible Victoria Falls

Me at Victoria Falls

Me with the falls somewhere behind the mist…

Looking downstream – the bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe

After a bite to eat we set off on the 14-hour dirt-road trip, eventually arriving at 5am after finally reaching the end of the never-ending road.


Slept in until 11:30am, and then felt very lazy as everyone else was already half-way through their day. In the afternoon I was able to meet the workshop participants – 5 Zambian guys in addition to James and Jess – and do an introductory session about why it’s important to survey language communities before you start any Bible translation project, and what can go wrong if you don’t! They seem like a great group of people, and I’m really looking forward to spending the next two weeks working with them.

Chinga, Clifford and James deep in thought


A full day of thinking through how we should approach any language research. By the end of the day we had discussed some of the potential issues that we should research, and come up with some questions on which to focus the research that we’ll be doing next week amongst the Kwangwa people. In the evening James and I went to the funeral of a nearby community leader who had passed away, to share in the grief of his elderly widow and the rest of the community.


Today we focused mainly on dialect issues – how do we know if people speaking two dialects can use the same Bible translation? And which dialect should materials be produced in so that as wide an audience as possible can understand and accept them? Then in the afternoon we looked at the issue of language vitality – whether a language will continue to be spoken, before thinking through some cultural and practical things for our trip to the Kwangwa next week.

I keep waking up every morning and thinking “what a beautiful day!”, and then remembering that that’s just what happens in dry season in Africa! I also keep remarking what a beautiful sunset it is every evening – probably because in England it’s such a rare occurrence if the sun ever happens to be shining as it sets.

James and Jess thinking through some of the issues


We met together for final preparations for the trip to the Kwangwa people next week, deciding on exactly what questions we’ll ask people and other methods we’ll use to investigate how they would best engage with the Scriptures in their own language. I’m looking forward to the trip – despite the fact that we’ve only had 3 and a half days together discussing the principles of language research, I think the guys have a good grasp on things. Hopefully they’ll really be able to see things coming together as they put the theory into practice next week.

Clifford and Progress designing village interview schedules


A restful day, doing not too much and answering a few emails. Feels like quite a few weeks since I’ve had a proper rest day that hasn’t involved visa applications or other things!

The beautiful view over the Zambezi flood plain


Went to the English-speaking church in town, which was different to any other church I’ve been to in Africa! The church is trying to reach out to the more educated members of the community, in the hope that they will become leaders in the church and have a vision to reach out to others in Western Province. In the afternoon we finish preparing for the village trip tomorrow, printing out interview schedules and blank word-lists ready for the 7am departure…!

Unlocking the scriptures

March 26, 2008 in Mark, Bible translation, Tanzania

I was working in Tanzania with Wycliffe from 2004-2006, doing something called Language Survey. On one of our survey trips we went to Mara Region in the north of Tanzania, to see what languages were spoken there and what the need was for Bible translation.

One of the languages, Kuria, already had a New Testament translated by the Bible Society, so we looked into whether additional translations were needed for the various dialects of Kuria, and decided that the one translation should suffice. However, the translation wasn’t being used by the people – most of the copies were sitting in a storehouse.

Recently I read this story from colleagues in Tanzania, which is an encouragement that the scriptures are now just starting to be used! Pray that these men and thousands of others like them would learn to read and love the Kuria scriptures, and that God would use them to draw people into a closer relationship with him.