“Village testing” is an important step in the process of translating a text into a local language. During village testing, community members not previously involved in the translation process read or listen to a translated text, giving suggestions for improving the grammar or clarity. A member of the translation team may ask content questions to help the checkers focus on details of the text. The goal? To see if the text is communicating clearly.
Village testing is difficult to complete well. It requires community members with the necessary time and interest level, and enough education to be able to give feedback in a question-and-answer process. It’s tempting to think, “This is too hard to organize. The translation team has been really careful. Why bother?” But every once in a while we are reminded of just how vital village testing is!
Back in the 90’s, when SIL member Joan Farr was working with the Kombio people to translate the Gospel of Matthew into their language, a group of men gathered for the village checking of the story of the centurion with the sick servant (Matthew 8:5-13). At the end of the conversation between Jesus and the centurion, Jesus was astonished and said, “I have not seen such faith even in Israel.” Farr noted that the men seemed bored, so she impulsively threw out a question with what she thought would be an obvious answer: “What did Jesus think about this centurion?” To her amazement, the men all called out together, “Jesus thought he was an idiot!”
During the discussion that followed, Farr discovered that Kombio has several ways to say “surprised”; unfortunately, the translation team had picked one that had connotations more like “horrified” than “delighted”. To improve understanding, the translation team chose to clarify Jesus’ words and to use a different term for “astonished”.
The final Kombio translation says (as translated literally into English): “I say to you (the disciples), This man has done well. I have not seen (or) met an Israel person whose heart/mind is strong [faith] about me like the thinking this Rome man has.” Now Jesus is surprised and pleased by the centurion’s faith, rather than shocked and horrified—and we have a good reminder of why it is important to “village check” translated texts.