Jaars Center

Language Matters

It’s more than a set of sounds, symbols, and syntax. Language shapes how you see the world. It’s intimately tied to your culture, history, and identity as a person. And throughout your life, it dictates what information you can and can’t understand.

“In French, it’s confusing. But in Ifè, it doesn’t matter how something is said;
when you read it, you understand it.”

– Kokou Amouzou, Ifè pastor in Togo

It connects to their hearts.

As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” A translated Bible also redefines your entire relationship with God. He’s not an outsider anymore. He’s not the God of a different language and culture—he’s your God.

“Through this language, I can hear him talking directly to me. Now I am sensing through the language that he is like my close relative.”

– Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Indigenous Australian translator and advisor

Which Language?

Many people speak three or four languages: One at home. Another at school or church. Another in the city. But they might not truly grasp something until it’s in the language they know best—usually the one they grew up speaking.

Understanding for All

One Manjak pastor said, “Sometimes people don’t understand the Bible in French. Sometimes we read it in Creole [in church], and only some understand. But when we read it in Manjak, everybody understands.”

The First-Ever Book

Two years had passed since copies of the first book in the local language spoken by a people group in Asia were distributed. Literacy workers wondered about the people’s reaction, especially the children. On their first visit back, the travelers didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Most of the time I can read and understand the Portuguese Bible, the English Bible, and even a little of the Greek Bible. But the way I understand it is somehow only on a superficial level. … When I read it in Makhuwa, it’s like I’m naked before God.”

– Bonifácio Paulo, Bible translation consultant-in-training in Mozambique

People gain pride in their identity.

For many minority groups, feeling inferior is common. Outsiders might ignore, mock, or discriminate against them. Their language might feel insignificant, because it isn’t spoken in school, the capital, or even church. But having a written form of their language—and a book as important as the Bible—can help people see how valuable they truly are.

Done Hiding Their Language

For decades, river traders told the Paumarí they were less than human: They spoke an “animal language.” Shame set in. The Paumarí wouldn’t even speak their language in front of outsiders.

But in the 1960s, linguists moved to their little village in northwest Brazil. As the Paumarí learned to read—and then began studying Scriptures—they realized their language was just as good as Portuguese.

Brighter, Deeper Words

When a woman was hired to translate Scriptures from Russian into her own language, she found the words were “so beautiful—brighter, more touching, deeper than Russian.” As she read about Jesus praying on the night before he was crucified, she couldn’t stop crying.

“Now, we are just like the French, the Germans, and the Americans. We have an alphabet and a Bible in our language, just like them.”

– Kouya man in Côte d’Ivoire, while holding some of the first Scriptures in his language