In 2018, developers at SIL surprised the Paratext steering committee by coming up with a version of Paratext that worked on Android tablets and phones, and they did it in a relatively short amount of time. They were careful to warn users that this limited version of Paratext, branded Paratext Lite, was not intended as a primary translation tool but as a companion to Paratext. Now, a couple of years later, we took an in-depth look at how it is being applied to the task of Bible translation by contacting users. The results may surprise you!
Why Paratext Lite?
Paratext Lite enables users to accomplish a limited set of translation tasks on mobile devices. The main advantage of the mobile platform is that these devices tend to be less expensive and can function off the power grid with inexpensive portable solar panels. Changes in Paratext Lite can be synchronized with the main project’s text and notes via the Internet, enabling collaboration with a global team. When Internet connectivity is simply not available, the synchronization can be delayed or done manually via a connected USB drive. More resource-intensive translation tasks, such as exegesis, spell-checking, and interlinearization are reserved for more powerful computers with larger screens.
Our earlier promotion efforts recommended that people use a 10-inch Android tablet for Paratext Lite, but current research shows that the vast majority (85%) of Paratext Lite users are working from mobile phones! Here are some of the creative ways people are using it for Bible translation.
Expanding the Team
Expensive computer equipment can seriously limit the number of people able to assist with Bible translation. In many locales, the prevalent technology is more likely to be a smartphone than a tablet or PC. By adding these devices to the workforce, teams are literally multiplying the number of people involved at little to no cost. Phones need no introduction, and their users have already mastered them for other purposes. Transforming them into tools for Bible translation is a natural progression for many teams, particularly in Asia, who are starting to use them as part of their translation workflow.
Revising Drafted Text
One language team is using a single computer with Paratext and three mobile phones with Paratext Lite. The drafting is done on the computer, but the translators work with Paratext Lite on their phones to revise the draft. Those of us who depend on computers might shake our heads, and Paratext Lite was never recommended for serious revision work without attaching a Bluetooth keyboard. But SIL’s Keyman program has the ability to add a virtual keyboard with predictive text which, if done well, can rival a physical keyboard. The reference texts and editable text are easy to read on the typical high-resolution mobile phone screen and a quick side-swipe gesture displays additional resources, all synced to the same passage. Paratext Lite allows quick “side-swipe” gestures to view multiple resources —arguably as many as one can fit on a computer screen and all synced to the same passage. And with access to the same 1,500+ Bible texts and resources from Paratext, Paratext Lite gives these translators everything they need to work.
CARLA Based Cluster Projects
In one setting in South America, translations are being adapted from one language into multiple related languages using Computer-Assisted Related Language Adaptation (CARLA). The team is separated geographically but is making these adaptations in parallel projects. Here, phones are preferred over tablets since many people have them already, so the overhead cost for equipment is minimal. The translators work with the CARLA produced drafts and make corrections and improvements for naturalness. A back-translation then goes back to the central facilitator who interacts with the various translators via Paratext notes. Recently, the advantages of Paratext Lite were highlighted when the facilitator’s laptop died unexpectedly. Despite his efforts, he wasn’t able to find a replacement anywhere in the major city nearby, and so he settled for a 10-inch tablet instead. After installing Paratext Lite he continued on in the work for a prolonged period. This was a huge blessing for the projects in all of these related languages!
We’ve heard from a pastor who is faithfully translating the New Testament into the language of his congregation. It is almost complete but he wants a final “read-through” to look for any errors or tricky issues in the text before publication. With the final draft on a mobile phone, he can carry the NT translation into his church, read the Scriptures to others, and note any problems. These notes are recorded with the text and arrive back at his laptop via Send/Receive for further revisions. On his phone, this pastor loves that the text can be made bigger and smaller with pinch and zoom.
In another location, portions of translated Scripture are being tested for comprehension on mobile phones. The facilitator simply shares the project with community members who have mobile phones, circumventing the need to print volumes of paper-based draft copies. When the meaning is not communicated well, these issues are noted in the app—replacing paper-based notes that can get lost or result in transcription errors back at the translation office. Plus, notes on issues can be discussed in the community by the review committee, and occasionally refinements are made to the text on the spot!
Paratext Lite as a Connectivity Bridge
We’ve learned of some translators who are working where there is no Internet connectivity. Spotty and intermittent communications are a reality in some developing countries, but even in those contexts, there is usually a signal over the nearby mountain or down the river. These translators install Paratext Lite on their phones and synchronize the data with their laptops. Then they travel with only their phone to the nearest available signal. In this way, they do Send/Receive with the extended team as often as once a day. Their only use for Paratext Lite is as a relay device, but this function is critical for their team.
Mobile technology is having a positive impact on many Bible translation organizations worldwide, often in ways that we hadn’t considered. We’ve shared only a taste of the creative ways that Bible translation teams are using Paratext Lite to extend their teams and improve their translation processes. Paratext Lite has lowered the technology ‘bar’, allowing many more people to participate in and have ownership of their unique Bible translation projects. How will you use Paratext Lite?
Please send us your story! Send an email to Brian Chapaitis