Sunday, August 11, 2013

PNG Literacy: Not your Typical ABCs

09 August, 2013 – Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea – Written by Robbie Petterson with Tim Scott

Uniskript is a writing system that uses picture
symbols that represent the parts of the mouth used to make the sounds of language. This makes it good for teaching phonics, and a useful stepping stone towards learning to read in normal letters. It can be applied to any language, including English. Because it is easy to learn, it is of interest to language development and literacy practitioners in countries with many small language groups, and where school children are struggling to acquire literacy through traditional methods.

A research team from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) developed the Uniskript method and this year they invited a team from Papua New Guinea to try Uniskript for themselves. Teachers Roy Harai, Nelson Moio, Anna Larupa and Esther Ukia, (teachers from the Urama and Koriki language communities) attended a workshop at the University of the Nations in Hawai'i, along with SIL literacy experts Robbie and Debbie Petterson.

The PNG team learned how to use Uniskript symbols to represent language sounds, and then developed symbols for Koriki and Urama. After testing the symbols by writing words and sentences, they looked at cultural icons, designs and artifacts, and used these to adapt the basic symbols to ones that had a real "Urama" or "Koriki" home-­grown feel to them. The Koriki teachers called their Uniskript alphabet "Koriki Ere", which means "(growth-giving) water for the Koriki," while the Urama pair called theirs "Urama Hura," meaning "the seeds (of learning) for the Urama." They also worked on basic Uniskripts for Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

The team later developed teaching materials and games

and stories for reading practice, using computer fonts created especially for them. An important final step was planning teaching materials for bridging to the Roman alphabet and to help children learning to read English.

The four teachers returned to PNG eager to try out these materials with small classes of children, now that they understand the potential benefits of using Uniskript for teaching literacy skills. If these trials are successful, other language communities may be interested in developing Uniskript systems for teaching phonics-based literacy in their languages, and also for teaching English.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vanuatu: Translation Need: How much longer will they have to wait?

The following is a recent prayer letter from Ross Webb, SIL Vanuatu Director

Pastor Aman is a youngish Presbyterian pastor who saw the impact of Bible translation at his first parish out of Bible college on Tanna island. He saw the impact of that translation on the life of people and determined to do the same for his own people – the Nahaqai of South Malejula. He asked us for help. It had great potential with a strongly motivated keen Christian who was computer literate to boot! We trained him in basic translation principles and then another young pastor form the same language jumped into the action – wow! Potential plus!

 Backdoor: Pastor Aman wanted an SIL advisor team to help him. We decided together that that was a good idea, at least for the initial years of the project. With all that enthusiasm and so much going for it, not to mention the beautiful coastal location, we didn’t think it would be hard to entice the next trained advisor team that God gave us to take up the challenge of embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Wrong. Over the last two years we’ve failed twice – two translator hopefuls felt they had to pull out of the Vanuatu challenge, and Bible translation entirely. “Olala”, as they say around here! That’s disheartening, not only because losing potential Bible translators is pretty disappointing in itself, but all the more so because we hate the thought of losing the opportunity with pastors Aman and John and their community. White-man promises aren’t looking so promising!

 Backup: So Pastors Aman and John have been cutting their teeth on translating Bible stories… Easy, you think? Not so much. A Bible story has still got to be accurate in detail. And it’s still got to be expressed in a way that sounds natural – mysteriously difficult at times, even for a native speaker, and since the language is so new to written form, spelling and alphabet issues keep tripping over themselves. Lyndal and I decided that a multi-purposed trip to visit the men and their villages would be in order. Some technology needed to be sorted out – my job; and Lyndal took on teaching some simple bridging literacy methods to local readers, and to Ps Aman and John to perpetuate. Why teach readers to read? Well, that’s a whole story in itself, but suffice to say people can get paralysed when they see the new shapes and squiggles over letters of a different language to the one they are used to reading – even if that new language is their very own. Weird but true.

Benefit: You would be amazed at how just an hour of word Bingo can improve fluency. Lyndal showed people how easy it is to read their own language. There were some whizzes, and some not so whizzy but Ps Aman absorbed the methodology to use in other villages, and in their Sunday after church translation-improvement checking sessions. The sole printed document in Nahaqai – 20 Bible stories – showed up deficiencies that convinced Ps Aman and John that they needed to revise their checking strategies. It’s too easy for people to say “great” at first glance and complain of the results later!

The sad story is that John and Aman have at least another year to wait before an advisor is available to help them – unless God does some sort of extreme miracle (there are none in the pipeline that we can see). We pray for people, but God delivers slowly. If I was Him I’d be making my urges to engage in vital tasks a lot more urgent, but I’m not Him and He obviously thinks my strategies imperfect! We will keep praying. Meanwhile, those two keen men will attend the Trenem Tingting / Critical Thinking workshop we are about to embark on with a new group of men this time round. Our desire is that the 12 men chosen to attend from different translation projects around the country will be open to having their minds expanded, and they will embrace all that God’s revelation of Himself has in store for those that apply themselves to it.
For more information about the work in Vanuatu, click here.