When most Americans think of Mexico, they think of tacos, burros, resort beaches and Spanish. Although everyone and their perro knows that they speak Spanish in Mexico, this, in fact, is only partially true. According to Ethnologue, there are 291 'living' languages in Mexico - languages that are still in use - with anywhere from several hundred people to tens of thousands of people speaking any given individual dialect. Of these languages, most are languages of the indigenous peoples of various areas; about half of them are found in the southern state of Oaxaca. The approximately 150 languages within Oaxaca fall into 16 major language groups.
We are in Mexico to help with the recording and distribution of audio recordings of the New Testament, the Jesus film, and a few other works in these indigenous languages. We work closely with Wycliffe Bible Translators here; in a nutshell, Wycliffe sends linguists to the native villages, and the Wycliffe linguists will spend anywhere from 5 to 20 years learning a single native language. Once the linguist is fluent in the language, they will create an alphabet for the language - most have no written language - and then several more years are spent translating the New Testament into the language. The manuscript is painstakingly checked and rechecked, with the help of several native-speakers of the language, and also other linguists. Finally the manuscript is released and printed in the native language, and those people who learn to read the written form of the language are able to read the bible in their native tongue.
Basically, our work here allows the people of these language groups to listen to the New Testament in an audio form, rather than having to learn to read. Once the bible has been translated into the language, we can find native speakers of the language who can read the bible out loud in a recording studio, and then essentially load the whole thing onto the equivalent of an mp3-player which can then be distributed to the people to listen to. Each chapter is read - or in the case of non-readers, spoken by a linguist and repeated back by a native speaker - and recorded as computerized wave-files. The recordings are then edited, and then played back and checked by native speakers. Repeated parts are removed, badly-read or mispronounced sections are re-recorded. It generally takes several weeks of work to produce a single New Testament in a single-voice recording; multi-voice recordings, and tracks for movies like the Jesus film and the Luke video are more complicated and require more time.
A side note - the ethnologue site referenced above is a wealth of world-class information on languages and linguistics for anyone who is interested in such things. It is put together by SIL International, which is what Wycliffe is known as in most of the world.
One of the organizations that we work closely with on various projects here is called Faith Comes by Hearing, also known as Hosanna ministries. They have samples of several projects they have done in numerous languages available on their website for people to listen to. Many of these languages are incredibly complex, and amazing to hear. FCBH's website is full of good information about audio-bible projects around the world.
The town we now live in is located within language group 247 on the second map above.