The Billion Listener Problem

Officially, there are about 750 million people in the world who lack basic reading and writing skills, according to UNESCO, the international organization tasked with measuring global literacy. Talking Bibles and its associates have worked for decades with non-literate, often overlooked minority groups who are isolated by language and culture. We know from experience that the problem of Biblical illiteracy is much greater. By our estimation, there are over 1 billion people in the world who cannot read the Bible in their heart language. These are the men, women, and children who need the spoken Word.

The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.

— Proverbs 20:12 (ESV)

Illiteracy and Non-Literacy

You will hear non-readers placed into two categories, the illiterate and the non-literate. The illiterate are non-reading individuals who live in literate societies. These are the people affected by circumstances such as learning disorders and dyslexia, lack of access to education, and government interference. Those who are blind and poor-sighted, either from birth, disease, or accident, have a particular disadvantage in developing countries where there are few if any accessibility aids. Because these circumstances are universal, it is important that the spoken Word be available even in the majority languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and English.

In the second category, the non-literate are people who live in societies without any readers at all. There are countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia where the literacy rate is far below the global average. Even within literate countries, such as India, there are non-literate populations of transplanted minorities, migrant workers, and refugees who have never received literacy lessons in their native tongue. These people learn the majority language well enough to find work, but their understanding of the Gospel is frustrated by language barriers. These non-readers long to hear the spoken Word in the language of their heart.

Then there is a third category of biblically illiterate individuals. Local governments around the world have prevented the import of Bibles and hindered education efforts, effectively making non-readers out of a literate population. Having the spoken Word on a Talking Bible is a powerful, effective defense against this attack on the spread of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.

A Bible for All to Hear

Whatever the reason for their lack of literacy, all non-readers are in dire need of the truth of Scripture in their own language in a format that they can study for themselves. The Good News in the Bible gives new life along with new vocabulary and a new way of thinking. People who struggle to survive in poverty often have no time or reason to learn to read unless they already know this power of the Gospel. But there are many people, especially leaders, who will not accept the authority of the Bible unless they can see or hear it for themselves. The Talking Bible crosses these barriers of mistrust and fear because God’s word speaks to them.

Talking Bibles International supports the efforts of mission organizations who teach people to read the Bible in their own language. Literacy programs and the spoken Word are two equally important tools in the evangelistic toolbox. But teaching reading takes time, during which people continue to go without personal access to the Word of God. There are hundreds of millions whose eyes will never know the letters on a page, but every one of those people has ears to hear. We have it on our hearts to reach these people. With the Talking Bible, non-literate individuals can hear the Word of God in their own language today—no classes required.

Global literacy statistics are taken from fact sheets provided by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics.