Belém – August '09

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This was a week-and-a-half work-related trip where I did not go to help others, at least not directly. Rather, I went to learn to use a computer program called Adapt-It. Like the name implies, this program is used to make adaptations, in this case, from one language to another, closely-related language. The idea here is that translators can get a good start on their projects by taking a text already translated into a language related to the one that they are working in, and by “teaching” the program the correspondences between the languages, have the program produce an acceptable first draft.

The course was held at a seminary about an hour's drive from the city of Belém, in the Brazilian state of Pará. Along with my fellow students, we were housed in the seminary's dormitory facilities and ate in the dining hall. Classes were held in a classroom adjacent to the main chapel. A specialist in the program came down from the States to teach the class. Since about half of the students were Brazilians who understood little or no English, another SIL couple joined us, not to teach or learn the program, but to handle some of the logistics and to provide simultaneous translation of the lessons.

As I said, the course lasted a week and a half. On our free Saturday at the end of the first week, most of us went back to Belém to do some sightseeing. Overall, the course was very well done, and we received certificates at the end. At least one of the students asked me afterward to send her the scripture text from a language related to the one she works in (we have it stored on our network server).

As for how much use Adapt-It will get in Brazil, that remains to be seen. All I can say is that it is a very useful tool.

The Trip Up

There really isn't much to say about the trip up. I flew out of Brasília on Tuesday, August 18th and arrived in Belém a few hours later. There, I met several other students who also arrived close enough together for us to all get a taxi out to the seminary. Being practically on the equator, the weather was rather muggy. The taxi ride was long, as we got caught in a traffic jam, and it wasn't until mid-afternoon when we finally got to the seminary.

Classes began on Wednesday morning.

The Palavra da Vida Center

The seminary is called Palavra da Vida, which is Portuguese for “Word of Life”. It is located on a fairly large facility, complete with dormitories, a dining hall, classrooms and a chapel, and more. None of the buildings rise very high; it has a rural atmosphere. At the time we were there, some regular students were present, and we saw them in the dining hall and the library.

I ended up sharing a dorm room with the only other single male student. He was with a different organization, and was there taking the course in order to help facilitate translation into the language he works with.

Unpacking my Suitcase

Unpacking my suitcase at the beginning of the course

The food was good, and there was plenty of it.

Food Line

Getting food in the dining hall

Like just about any Brazilian facility, there is a soccer field. More than one, in fact.

Soccer Field and Dorm

One of the soccer fields, with one of the dormitores in the background

Scene at Palavra da Vida

This small bridge goes over a cement-surrounded pond, with seminary facilities in the background

As I mentioned above, classes were held in the main chapel. Here is the chapel, as seen from the front.

Ebenezer Chapel

The Capela Ebenezer, or “Ebenezer Chapel”

The Adapt-It Class

In the weeks before the course, I was in touch with the teacher who would come down and give it. Needing material to demonstrate and practice with, we decided that the simplest adaptation for everyone would be from Spanish to Portuguese, since they are closely-related languages. So I helped him out by going on-line and finding Spanish scriptures, which I then copied and turned into appropriately marked text files.

Each of us taking the course brought our own computer, with the Adapt-It program installed. (Predictably, a few showed up without it, and being the local computer tech, I ended up helping them put it on their machines.) Bob, the teacher, began by demonstrating the process on a whiteboard, using different-colored markers. Eventually, I helped him hook a data projector to his computer, and he continued with PowerPoint presentations, and finally, projecting the Adapt-It program itself on the screen. We students, having all received copies of the source Spanish text, followed along, practicing as we went.

Bob using Whiteboard

Bob using the whiteboard

Bob using Data Projector

Showing a PowerPoint presentation with the data projector

The program proved to be quite intuitive, and fairly simple to learn. Basically, you tell it what word in the target language corresponds to a given word in the source language. Because of this, the two languages need to be very closely related, with the same basic grammar structure. It is also possible to substitute multiple words or even phrases. Then, for example, once you have told it that “ella” in Spanish becomes “ela” in Portuguese, every time the program encounters “ella”, it will automatically insert “ela” in the target Portuguese text.

Adapt-It program

Displaying the Adapt-It program translating from Spanish to Portuguese

Of course, often a word has more than one translation in the target language. In this case, you tell the program both words, and when it hits the word with multiple translations, it will pop up a dialog box so that you can choose, based on the context.

Students in course

Students paying attention in class

This is a simplistic explanation of the Adapt-It program. It is not the purpose of this trip report to give a detailed description of a piece of software; rather, it is to describe the trip itself. Suffice it to say that we began with the expectation of spending the first half-week and the following Monday learning about the program, and would then spend the last 4 days as a lab exercise, actually applying what we learned either on scripture text that we brought, or on additional Spanish material. However, that plan lasted all of about 2 days, when it became obvious that we needed to interleave the practice sessions with the teaching sessions. So Bob would teach for a while, and afterward we would have time to practice with what we had learned. This worked a lot better, and in the end we felt that we had actually learned something.

As I said, Bob came down from the States with his wife, and neither of them spoke Portuguese. However, half of the students did not speak English! So one of my SIL colleagues, Stan, ended up translating everything that Bob said, so that they would understand. Simultaneous translation is not as easy as it may seem, as I discovered one morning when Stan was delayed and Bob asked me to step in until he arrived. But we survived, and in the end, everyone understood what was being taught.

Bob teaching and Stan translating

Bob teaching while Stan stands ready to translate

As I said in the Overview, the course was good and Adapt-It is a good tool. Overall, this was a valuable time and I hope and pray that it helps advance Bible translation in Brazil.


On Saturday, most of us went into the city of Belém to do some sightseeing. We climbed aboard the seminary's own bus for the trip. Unfortunately, as we arrived in town the driver noticed that the engine was not working correctly, and we stopped while he opened the hood to try and see what the problem was. In the end, we caught a city bus to go to a plaza downtown, while he stayed with the bus.

Bus Engine

Bus engine with problem

The plaza was filled with people, and a small feira was taking place. This is where sellers set up booths or tables to sell goods. Some of our group bought things. Most of us wandered around, checking out not only the plaza, but some of the nearby buildings. At one place I heard high-pitched yipping, and found someone selling wiener puppies. Wiener dogs are actually popular in Brazil.

Buying Things

Purchasing items at the feira

Wiener Dog

Wiener dog in a bikini, ready to lick someone

After a while, our bus driver showed up again, this time with a van, and another driver with another van. We climbed aboard and were driven to another part of town, near the shore. (Belém sits on a long, deep bay south of the Island of Marajó; the Amazon River is on the other side of the island (which isn't really an island).) When we arrived, we did some sightseeing, and eventually made our way to a large facility with shops and restaurants, where we had lunch.

Billiard by Shore

Billiard by the shore with a ship in the background

Facility by Shore

This is the large facility where we ended up eating lunch

Eating Lunch

I got a waitress to take this picture of three of us eating lunch

Finally, our transportation took us to another location, a sort of park where we got to see some natural exhibits, enjoy a mini-zoo, and take an elevator to the top of a tower where we had a great view of the surrounding region.

Billiard up in tower

Standing on the platform at the top of the tower, taking in the view

Afterward, tired but satisfied, we returned to the Palavra da Vida center.

Finishing Up

On Thursday, the day before the course ended, we had a little ceremony in which we all received certificates. It was just a piece of paper, but it meant something. It meant that we had learned how to use a tool that can help advance the progress of Bible translation in Brazil. So, a piece of paper? Yes, but one with meaning.

Receiving Certificate

Receiving my certificate at the end of the course

And afterward, it was time to say good-bye, board our respective planes or buses, and return home.

A week and a half well spent.

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