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Translation Without Written Words

Jehovah’s Witnesses have translated Bible-based material from English into over 900 languages. Translation of a written text into another written language is challenging enough. But sign-language translation involves additional work. Many deaf people communicate ideas visually by using their hands and facial expressions, so sign-language translators translate from text to video. In this way, the Witnesses have translated publications into more than 90 sign languages.

Who are the translators?

Like all Witness translators, those who translate into sign language are well-versed in the target language. Many are deaf and were raised using sign language or are hearing but grew up with deaf family members. The translators are also diligent students of the Bible.

New translators receive extensive training in the principles of translation. For instance, Andrew says: “Although I attended a school for the deaf while growing up and used sign language, training as a translator has helped me to understand the grammatical structure of the language. The other translators taught me how to improve my use of signs, facial expressions, and body movements to convey ideas accurately.”

Ensuring a quality translation

Translators work together as a team. Each member fulfills a specific role, whether translating, checking, or proofreading the material. Then, wherever possible, the translation is reviewed by a panel of deaf persons from various locations and backgrounds. The panel’s observations are used to refine the translation. This step ensures that the signs and expressions used are natural and that the message in the finished video is accurate and clear.

The Finnish Sign Language translation team discusses source text

Sign-language translators usually attend congregation meetings that are conducted in sign language. Also, they often conduct Bible studies with members of the deaf community who are not Witnesses. In these ways, translators stay up-to-date with the language.

A Brazilian Sign Language translator records preliminary translation onto video

Why so much effort?

The Bible shows that individuals of “all nations and tribes and peoples and languages” would respond to its comforting and hopeful message. (Revelation 7:9, footnote) Included among them, of course, are those who use sign language to communicate.

The translators are happy to use their time and skills in such a worthwhile work. A translator named Tony says: “Because I am deaf, I can relate to the struggles faced by fellow deaf people. It’s always been my deep desire to reach as many deaf ones as possible and to share true hope from the Bible with them.”

Amanda, who also works with a sign-language translation team, adds: “I feel so much more productive translating publications that convey the Bible’s message to the deaf than I ever did working at my previous job.”

How can you find videos in your sign language?

The step-by-step tutorial “Find Sign-Language Content” will help you to access sign-language videos on the jw.org website.