Applications that teach indigenous languages

July 19, 2012

Arts & Culture


The Punch

February 29, 2012 by Jayne Augoye


About a week after the World Mother Tongue Day was marked, JAYNE AUGOYE highlights phone applications that teach users  elements of major Nigerian languages

That many languages are facing threats of extinction is not in doubt.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has, for instance,  categorised 2,500 languages in five levels of endangerment: unsafe, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct in its Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

The agency adds that more than 200 languages have become extinct around the world over the last three generations.

In Nigeria, it is not any different as the atlas has listed 27 languages as being endangered, while a UN report has also estimated that up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages could die this century, with the valuable knowledge, culture and customs embedded in them gone forever.

But as parents and educationists continue to trade blame over the gradual death of indigenous languages among the younger generation, software developers have come up with applications that teach major Nigerian languages. One of such is the iSabi Igbo application, designed for the iPhone and iPad.

The application,  which can be downloaded for a fee from Apple’s media software, iTunes, contains a dictionary of more than 2,000 words and phrases. According to its builders, it does not require internet access and comes with an audio feature, which makes it quite easy to learn the Igbo language on the go.

They  add that the app provides the ability to see, hear examples and master them through practice. It is also based on the widely written version which has been taught in schools since the 1960s.

Its additional features include the pronunciation of every  Igbo word or phrase by a native speaker, a record and playback feature that allows for comparison with the native speaker in order to quickly master Igbo pronunciation and fun and relaxed quizzes on each category of the app to reinforce what one has learnt.

Others include  well organised categories to allow one to build one’s vocabulary for many situations, text and indexed searches to quickly locate words and phrases and bookmark of words and phrases for easy access and recall or to create study sets.

A similar app is iSabi Yoruba. For best experience with this software, the user is advised to use a device that is capable of recording and playing sound. To get sound to work on older generation iPod Touches, it is better to use Apple approved headsets that are capable of recording sound.

Akin to the Igbo language app, this helps users to pronounce letters of the Yoruba alphabet, especially those with unique pronunciations such as, E, P or S.  They will also be able to hear and practise subtle differences in tone between identically written words and learn everyday .

In the same vein, NaijaPedia 1.0 application helps the user to master the major Nigerian languages on his or her smart phone. It translates common phrases from English language to major Nigerian languages. The debut edition, inaugurated last year, features translations to Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and Pidgin English. As a mobile application, it runs on any java enabled mobile phone including blackberry phones.

It has easy-to-use instructions, which makes it easy to install. Besides, it comes with a database of preinstalled phrases and sentences in English that can be instantly translated to the four languages. The user selects a language, chooses the next key, selects a phrase to translate and then chooses the translate key. The phrase is translated to the selected language.

Although it can be downloaded for free, the commercial version is available for a fee. It features over 2,000 phrases.

Basic Hausa is another iPhone and iPad app on the App Store that uses everyday words and phrases to teach the Hausa language. It takes the user through essential words and phrases that will help with basic conversation in Hausa language. The App contains 18 lessons packed with an audio instruction by a Hausa language professional.

In addition, it includes game elements to help motivate you as you learn — earn badges as you take quizzes and progress through the course. Other features include full audio recordings of essential Hausa words and phrases, vocabulary training with clear native pronunciation, the ability to record and playback your own recordings for comparison with the native speaker, and short and enjoyable interactive quizzes for each lesson.

Basic Hausa comes packed with 18 lessons for learning Hausa for a user with no previous knowledge of the language. The interface of the programme, whether iPhone or iPad, allows the user to shift from listening to a word or phrase to recording and checking it with the native speaker. It is also available for download on iTunes.

A new app called SpeakYoruba is also about to make its debut on the iOS platform. The application aims to help users learn the Yoruba language by the use of animated flash cards with one word representing a letter in the Yoruba alphabet.  It will also work with both English and Yoruba pronunciations that way users can learn to speak Yoruba while interacting with the alphabet through the iPhone/iPad touch interface.


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