The Aitape West Translation Project

The Aitape West Translation Project (AWTP) is a multi-language Bible translation and literacy project that includes at least 11 languages and dialects that are spoken west of the town of Aitape in Sandaun Province, Papua New Guinea. Here are two maps of the area.

The Aitape West area is on the north coast of Papua New Guinea

Regional groups and language teams

The AWTP includes three regional groups of languages that are related to each other. Within each regional group, there are three or four languages. Each language team typically has two translators and two literacy teachers.

Group 1

Coastal Group

Onnele Group

Bauni Barapu Arop Goiniri
Bauni Pou Malol Romei-Barera
Uni (Ramo) Serra Wolwale
Bouni (Sumo) Sissano

AWTP Area: Large box surrounds home of Group One languages; smaller box shows Onnele Group villages; unboxed area on coast is home of Coastal Group languages.

Training Phase: Working together, training together

During the training phase, the translators came together in Arop village three to four times a year for translation workshops.  One of the experienced Papua New Guinean translators would lead the translators in a discussion session about the passage they are going to translate that day.

After the discussion, the teams gathered at tables by regional groups to work on the translation together. When they had translated a verse or section, each language team (typically two men) read their translation to the others in their regional group. In most cases, they can understand each other’s languages and are able to help each other think of better ways to say things. As each chapter was completed, it was checked for accuracy by an adviser. Then the teams would type their translations onto computers.

At the end of the workshop, the translators would take their draft translations home in the form of a booklet that also includes illustrations and Bible Study questions. Local translation committees helped the translators check the translations to make sure they communicate clearly. In some cases this included actually using the draft translations in local schools and churches.

At the next translation workshop, the translation was revised before the translators moved on to translating a new section. Before being published, each translation was thoroughly checked again by a translation consultant.

Production Phase: Technology speeds the process

After three years of translation training and experience, the new translators were ready to begin using computer technology to help speed the process. They are now using adaptation software to leverage the similarities between related languages. Translators tell the software that a certain word or phrase in the source language corresponds to a certain word or phrase in the target language.

The more they use the program, the more the program knows about the relationships between those two languages and the more the computer can do for the translators. This gives the translators more time to work on the unpredictable things that happen between languages. The result is  higher quality translations in less time. I help the translators for the Arop language to make sure their translation is ready for all the other translators to use it as their starting point.

Connected by a wireless network, the translators are able to share important files and collaborate on their translations in real time. In the photo below, Emil, Peter, and Linus are having a good laugh about something in the translation they are working on. Peter (blue shirt) is doing the editing on his computer. Emil (foreground) is using his computer to watch what Peter (blue shirt) is doing as he edits the translation.

In the mornings, the translators enjoy an inductive Bible study on the book they are currently translating and pray for one another. This helps us all make sure we are translating God’s transforming message into our lives, not just into our computers and onto paper.

Teamwork with other Wycliffe members

I (John) continue to work with the translators for the Arop, Sissano, and Malol languages with their translations.

Ben & Mandy Pehrson, Beth Fuller, Luke & Laura Warrington, Missy Smith, and Jerry & Cindy Walker also work with us in this project.

Ben is the translation adviser for the three dialects of the Onnele language. Mandy is organizing a literacy project for all eleven languages. Beth Fuller is our Scripture Use Coordinator. Luke & Laura Warrington are doing linguistic analysis on the Sissano language. Missy Smith is our administrator and helps with just about everything. Jerry Walker is our Scripture recording expert. His wife Cindy is helping Beth with Scripture Use.

You could think of us as a relay team. The Arop team and I lead off by doing their translation and making sure it’s ready for other translators to use it as their starting point. Ben helps us check it and then helps translators from the Onnele languages to do their translations. When the translations are finished, Jerry does the audio recordings. Then Beth and Cindy take the printed and recorded Scriptures and help local people use it in their churches, their families, and in their own lives. Missy keeps track of the finances, the schudule, the “stuff,” and all of us. None of us could do all of that alone.

For a good synopsis of the first decade of this new project, see This edition of the Jaars Rev7 magazine. For a longer description of the many ways we have seen God work among us, see our book, Sleeping Coconuts.