Penang Hokkien Oral Bible Translation

Frequently Asked Questions

Penang Hokkien is a distinct subdialect of Hokkien that is rooted in the melting pot of Penang. It is infused with words from other languages like Malay, English and other Chinese dialects.

As it is spoken by people of different backgrounds, the Penang Hokkien team is translating the Bible orally, making the Word of God available in everyday language to all, irrespective of education, age and race.

What is Oral Bible translation?

It is simply translating the Bible orally – the translators listen to an audio passage, and translate orally and record it.  Actually the process is a little bit more than just that. The team usually includes an exegete who does the homework of researching the meaning of the passage by reading commentaries, and looking at the Greek or Hebrew, digging into dictionaries in order to provide the translators the information needed to translate, to make decisions when choosing words or interpretations.

Why do oral translation?

The Penang Hokkien Oral Bible translation team is translating the Bible orally for the Hokkien speakers of Penang, thus making available the Word of God in everyday speech for people who are unable to read or find it difficult to read or who simply prefer listening.

As speakers of Penang Hokkien come from a wide range of educational backgrounds – some from Malay or English school and others from Chinese school, an oral translation makes it that there is no need for a written script (Roman alphabets or Chinese orthography).

The target audience for the translation are church goers who are above 70 attending Hokkien services. It is also translated with non Christians in mind, to be used for evangelism.

Is this like an audio Bible?

Yes and no. Yes, because it is in audio format. In a way, no because many audio Bibles are recordings of written versions that are read aloud. The difference is the language discourse – language flows differently when written from when it is spoken. Even written language has different discourse depending on the genre, whether it is an article or a story, an official letter or a love letter etc. Similarly, spoken language has different discourse depending on if it is a narrative or a dialogue, or a speech. Oral Bible translation uses discourse for spoken language – a narrative discourse or a speech discourse depending on the passage of the Bible.

How did the translation project come about?

YWAM Penang shared the Jesus Film in Amoy Hokkien to folks that went to their drop in centre and found that many did not understand the Hokkien used in the film. Ed de Visser, the leader of the drop-in centre approached James Choong and Joanna to consider translating the Jesus Film. Ed and his wife Aafke are good friends with the daughter of a Wycliffe Switzerland couple whose main assignment was to record and dub the Jesus Film.

Joanna who is a staff of YWAM Penang and a Penangite who grew up speaking Hokkien took the challenge and began to work on the Jesus Film in Penang Hokkien. The Lord brought together people from different churches in Penang under to translate and be voice actors for the Jesus Film. Henry and Rosemary from Wycliffe Switzerland came to do the recording. Different organizations such as Wycliffe and local churches under the leadership of YWAM worked together and in August 2018 the Jesus Film in Penang Hokkien was completed.

After that, the translators felt the need for more Scripture in Penang Hokkien. This time God brought together YWAM, Wycliffe Malaysia, Hokkien Harvest and FCBH (Faith Comes by Hearing) to translate the Gospel of Mark.

In March of 2020, two trainers from FCBH came to train the team on the use of Render a software developed for oral translation. However, the 3-week workshop was shortened to 2 weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The trainers had to leave for their home country and the team started the translation work during the Movement Control Order with the help of Zoom, WhatsApp, email and Render.

Who are involved in this translation project?

The Lord also raised 3 more translators to join Joanna and Pastor Joy who worked on the Jesus Film; they are Adrian (Ps Joy’s husband), and Patrick and Candice. They are supported by Timothy as exegete. Joanna continues as project coordinator and also is the other exegete for the team. Audelia is the back translator for the project and works remotely from a neighbouring country.

There is a group of pastors who review the translated passages to give feedback on the language, the key terms and also the exegesis.

There are several teams of checkers from different churches who help in checking the clarity and naturalness of the language in community checks and also consultant checks.

How can you be involved?

Pray with us for the translation of the Gospel of Mark that His Word may reach the many speakers of Penang Hokkien. Pray for the translation team as they work together – for strength and endurance, for wisdom, for good communication within the team, with reviewers and during community checks.

Consider being part of the Penang Hokkien translation work or other language. Please contact Wycliffe Malaysia if you are interested.

Support the project financially.

(The Hokkien spoken in Penang is similar to the Hokkien spoken in Kedah and all the way to Taiping, and also in Medan, Sumatera.)


The translated passages are available on