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Jan 27, 2010

Remotely Viable

Earlier this week the Mara Cluster Project conducted a Bible translation consultant check of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22 in the Simbiti language. Nothing unusual, right? Well, not really. The consultant was in Holland and the translation team in a small town in Tanzania. 

Not only was this event a success, it brought insight to the consultant checking process. Remote consulting is now a viable method of conducting consultant checks in the Mara Cluster.

The cluster project is currently working simultaneously with nine different but related Bantu languages. The project started in November 2008 and published its first scripture portions (the Christmas story in Luke) in December 2009 in all nine languages.

Dave is the translation advisor for Simbiti and Patrick the consultant. They spoke a few months earlier about ways to address the challenge of having a consultant who was not based in Musoma and ways to bring Patrick closer to Mara without without extended and expensive travel. A remote consultant check was part of the answer to that problem. Since then we have been planning, testing, setting up and getting the translation ready.

Dave designed a technical setup that would solve the translation problems and process under the requirements stipulated by Patrick. This was not the first time that they had worked together. Patrick had worked with the team in Musoma for a year. The rapport established in prior meetings was one of the factors that contributed to the success of this event.

There are two very basic requirements for any consultant check. First, the consultant needs to see the text, understand it, and pass comment on places where it could be improved. Second, the translation team needs to clearly understand this feedback and make appropriate changes to the text and in turn have these evaluated. There may be multiple iterations of this process. The entire technical setup enabled this process.

All this meant that Patrick needed to see the text as it was edited by the translators immediately after those edits occurred and update his consultant notes or ask further questions as he saw fit.

Technically speaking

The whole team--translators, advisor in Tanzania and consultant in The Netherlands--had access to the Simbiti language database. This was done locally through a local area network (LAN) and remotely--for Patrick--through a virtual private network (VPN). The two locations each used Skype ( to speak to each other over the internet using speakers and noise cancelling microphones.

In Holland, Patrick used his laptop coupled with an external monitor. The monitor showed his translation programs (Translators Workplace and Paratext 7) and Skype. The laptop screen showed the remote desktop session (via VPN) with Translation Editor and Translation Editor Notes. Patrick could see the text as it was edited by the translators immediately after those edits occurred and update his consultant notes or ask further questions as he saw fit.

The Tanzania team also used a projector to enable Dave to monitor the edits on the translators' screen (this was optional). They also used a screen at the end of the consultant check to enable Patrick to greet the translators via video Skype. This brought great benefits of rapport, and in future sessions they will start with a brief video Skype to assist orientation.

They began each day with prayer at 11.00am Tanzania time, which is 9:00am in Holland. Dave and the translators, Waynse and Mago, were in a closed and relatively private office in Musoma, and Patrick was at his workstation in Holland. The time difference meant that the Tanzania team had a chance to respond to, process, and compose feedback on any issues of the day before or to process other feedback and move these issues out of the time that Patrick was online.

The internet connection was sufficient to enable excellent transmission of voice and never during the consultant check did they have hearing issues related to poor transmission. The connection dropped twice in five and a half hours. In both cases it was re-established without significant delay (the Skype connection used around 35 mb/hour).

Patrick's setup of dual monitors was a great asset both in his examination of the text prior to the check and while in the check itself. 

The team was able to check all of Luke 22 in about five and a half hours. (Note: A do not disturb sign on the door is essential in Tanzania). When they earlier contemplated what result they might report, they did not expect that the most significant change required was a new three way microphone splitter. This experiment shows that this method of consultant checking is viable, and it may bring significant benefits to the Mara Cluster Project.


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