Q&A: Translating Nazarene Literature

Q&A: Translating Nazarene Literature

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HT: What is the most translated piece of Nazarene literature?

Scott: Several years ago, the Board of General Superintendents released a small booklet called Core Values: Christian, Holiness, Missional. By 2007, it was available in 24 languages, passing Chic Shaver’s Basic Bible Studies for New and Growing Christians, which had been translated into 19 other languages.

While Core Values remains the denomination’s most translated book (even though it’s fairly small), the current record is held by Stephane Tibi, whose visual teaching tool, “Article of Faith Study Map,” is available in 38 languages—from  A (Amharic and Arabic) to Z (Zulu). It’s available free to download at studymaps.org

By the time of our next General Assembly in 2017, we may have a new champion. The complete Articles of Faith should be translated then into over 40 languages. You can follow the developments by clicking here.

HT: What are the most popular Nazarene languages?

Scott: Well, it depends on what we mean by “popular.”

About 95 percent of Nazarenes live in areas where English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Korean are widely understood. For many, though, those languages are their second or third language. So, perhaps a better approach would be to look at what happens on Sunday morning. Here are our top 10 languages based on what is spoken in Nazarene churches.

  • English (31% of Nazarenes in 48 world areas)
  • Spanish (17%; 26 world areas)
  • Portuguese (8%; 12 world areas)
  • Haitian (6%; 8 world areas)
  • Bengali (5%; Bangladesh and India)
  • Tsonga (5%; Mozambique and South Africa)
  • French (4%; 18 world areas)
  • Chichewa (2%; Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia)
  • Hindi (2%; India, New Zealand)
  • Amharic (2%; Ethiopia)


HT: Why don’t we use computer programs to quickly translate all our books into other languages?

Scott: Translation is difficult. Most software programs simply can’t capture the nuances of human language. In a recent article in Engage Magazine, missionary Jonathan Phillips tells the story of how one of his Romanian language workers wrote, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its fungus.” (“Mold” means “fungus," right?).

Here’s an example of the problems associated with machine translations. I translated a quote from John Wesley into Chinese. Then I used the same program to translate it back into English.

The original quote was “Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.” The Chinese-to-English version is, “Once the seven years I burned all my sermons; because this is a, if I cannot write a better preaching now than seven years ago I did a shame.”

We can do better, don’t you think?

Scott Stargel works with Global Nazarene Publications, coordinating literature development in more than 50 languages.