Wycliffe Bible Translators
Picking up a book to learn a complex computer program takes a special gift. But it’s especially difficult for Deaf people like Panuwat Manee, the video editor for the Thai Sign Language team.
Thai Sign Language is visually dynamic, but reading is static and two-dimensional, says Panuwat. “Spoken Thai and Thai Sign Language are completely different. For the Deaf, reading means learning a new form of communication and a new language.”
Although reading has always been difficult for Panuwat, a natural gift for technology helped him excel in studying computers and video.
Job options are limited for the Deaf in Thailand, because employers often prefer to hire hearing people. Once Panuwat graduated from school, he worked doing laundry at a hotel.
But God had bigger plans for Panuwat.
At his Deaf school reunion, Panuwat talked with a woman who invited him to a Christian camp for the Deaf. Although Panuwat was Buddhist, he agreed to attend. “After the Deaf pastor talked about Jesus’ crucifixion, I asked, ‘Even if you do good works, you can’t go to heaven?’ I wanted to see the passage.’ I saw it, and it was true — that’s what the Bible said.” Feeling deeply convicted, Panuwat accepted Christ.
When the Thai Sign Language team approached Panuwat about joining them as a video editor, he was reluctant to leave his steady job, and unsure he could handle the technical challenges. They encouraged Panuwat, “We think you can do the work. It’s important to help the Deaf –you can use the editing and video skills you learned in school.” After much thought and prayer, Panuwat finally agreed. Since then, Panuwat has advanced his editing skills and learned about the unique challenges faced when translating the Bible into sign languages.
For example, because sign languages are visual, translators have to find ways to communicate certain story details that the hearing might not consider critical, such as identifying positions in physical space.
Creating and organizing new signs is another challenge. For words that occur often in the Bible, like ‘Moses,’ you can make new terms. For uncommon words you can use finger spelling, but this is based on spoken Thai, which doesn’t communicate clearly to the Deaf. It’s better to create unique signs that reflect the characteristics of each person, place or idea. With the Apostle Thomas, the translation team created a sign that incorporates the symbol for a question, signifying his doubts. Checking new signs with the Deaf community takes time. Additionally, because the story is in video format, changing a sign takes a lot of extra time. As Panuwat explains, “If we go back and change a sign, we have to re-film the whole story.”
The translation is hard work, but the team is excited to see the Bible coming alive, both on screen and in their lives. Panuwat is looking forward with hope to what God is going to do in the future.
Wycliffe Bible Translators is grateful for all who take part in supporting translation projects like this one, including those who give through the Combined Federal Campaign.