A prior manual translation into Spanish took about a year to complete, so in search of a more efficient approach, TOW partnered with spf.io to experiment with biblical machine translation. This project involves training a custom AI model on Christian content to adapt the automatic translation to implement biblical terminology and phrases.
We spoke with Christine Tan, Director of Marketing and Partnerships at TOW, to share more about the collaboration.
The Challenges of Translating the Bible Commentary
Of course, this wasn’t a general-purpose translation task–biblical content came with some unique challenges, as Tan explained:
“I think one tricky thing…was that there’s Biblical language where all the vocabulary [is not] what you read in a newspaper. So having the translators with particular skills or backgrounds…to know how to translate it well [that] was actually a challenge.”
Thankfully, Christianity Today (CT), a large Christian publication well known for its world-class journalism, had been using spf.io to translate articles from English to Portuguese. With CT’s approval, spf.io trained a custom machine translation from English to Portuguese using their data. This model was fine-tuned to Christian terminology and language and produced first-draft translations that accelerated the work of TOW’s Portuguese translators.
Tan noted, “They found that using the spf.io translation helped speed up their work.”
TOW can now seamlessly generate new translations using spf.io’s Document Translation Portal (DTP). This tool enables them to accelerate the translation process. Of course, the human touch remains crucial–translators carefully review and edit the translations to ensure they reflect the nuances of the commentary.
The online Portuguese Bible commentary launches in January 2024. It will enable entrepreneurs and professionals across Brazil and other Portuguese-speaking communities to access invaluable insights into faith and work integration in their heart language. Paulo Humaitá, CEO of Bluefields Accelerator, a major proponent of the project, believes TOW’s Bible commentary is the key to filling the main gap of understanding their work to make a difference for the nation and global missions.
Humaitá explained, “I couldn’t emphasize more how important having Biblical-rooted theology of work material available in Portuguese [is] for Brazilians as most of the population don’t speak English, and it is crucial. It’s key for the future of not only Brazil, but I would say, for the global church.”
This aligns with TOW’s vision for the commentary, as Tan shared:
“We hope that people would feel that not only is church more relevant because it’s addressing their everyday lived experience of life and work, but that people would be transformed in their relationship with God, that it would feel alive in the workplace.”
- CT contributed its translation data.
- Spf.io used that data to train a biblical machine translation model.
- And TOW benefitted with an accelerated translation of its commentary. They are also sharing their data to further refine the biblical machine translation model.
Thus, their investment in translation is multiplied–they help Portuguese speakers integrate faith and work while also helping accelerate the translation efforts of other ministries in making their content accessible worldwide.