Vernacular Media Services: What is it?
The swift, rhythmic pulse of dancing feet. The sweet lilt of poetry gliding off the tongue. The stirring expressions etched on a storyteller’s face. The carefully woven hues of a painting.
For people in oral societies, these sensations are part of everyday communication. Dance, poetry, art, storytelling—even genealogies—are used to convey important messages. Knowledge is passed on through oral instruction and personal example; often, textbooks and “how-to” manuals are nowhere to be found.
In fact, many of these societies have no written language whatsoever. Or, in communities where a writing system is introduced, oral communication often persists as the most important, prevalent and enjoyable way to exchange information.
According to most recent estimates, oral societies make up about two-thirds of the world’s population—and the vast majority of people groups without adequate access to Scripture fall into this category.
In light of these figures, many linguistic personnel must wrestle with a pressing question: How can we translate and present the Scriptures most effectively for oral societies?
In most cases, literacy programs are powerful catalysts for the growth of local churches. Yet many oral communicators continue to utilize oral learning methods—such as memorizing Bible stories—and are able to study and understand God’s Word without necessarily becoming literate.
In addition, training based on oral communication principles helps pastors and teachers communicate effectively; sharing God’s Word in traditional formats is often far more powerful and touching within orally oriented communities.
And so, to speak to the hearts of many oral communicators, God’s Word must go beyond the printed page. Culturally appropriate media, such as songs, dance, drama, poems, proverbs, riddles, and stories—all oral communication art forms—become crucial for communicating the translated Scriptures.
At JAARS, Vernacular Media Services personnel work alongside translation teams to help develop culturally appropriate media tools in the “vernacular”—or everyday language—of people groups around the world.
For more than 15 years, we have researched and designed media strategies to share God’s Word with oral societies, which communicate primarily through what can be seen and heard. Today, dozens of trained vernacular media specialists work hand-in-hand with translation teams to:
- Evaluate the communication needs of specific language groups
- Design appropriate media strategies
- Create effective, culturally appropriate media tools
We use a custom blend of “high-tech” and “low-tech” media tools to meet the communication needs of individual language groups. Some of our current media tools include:
- Videos in local languages, such as the JESUS film and the Luke and Genesis videos.
- Audio Scriptures, study materials, and music recordings, which are distributed on cassettes, CDs and MegaVoice players.
- Drama and music presentations.
- “Low-tech” tools such as flannelgraphs, puppets, and flip charts.
Through these means, the translated Scriptures can be shared with all people in a given language group—regardless of their age, physical health, or ability to read. In addition, when people hear media in their own language, it often sparks an interest in literacy and printed Scriptures.
Originally published in Rev. 7, Every Nation People Language, Winter 2010, Vol. 5, issue 1.
Michaela Riley is content editor for www.JAARS.org