Haitian Creole gets library of children's books

Doug Higby
The program that promotes Haitian Creole literacy among children has a goal of authoring 200 easy-reading books. That goal is made possible by the software called Bloom.

Haitian Creole, a derivative of French, is the only language spoken by most Haitians. So when SIL staff was asked to go to Haiti to help kick off a children’s book writing program, they were thrilled by the opportunity. The program promotes Creole literacy among children and has a goal of authoring 200 easy-reading books. That is a lot of books to author!

The key component that makes this even possible is an award-winning software package SIL developed called Bloom. Quite simply, Bloom makes it possible to author books in as little as a day without much training. These are easy-reading books, so the content is restricted to either a set of alphabetic letters the students have already learned, or to short paragraphs in an 8 to 16 page book with lots of pictures.

Besides creativity, what does an author need to create a booklet for children? Normally you’d need an expensive software program for desktop publishing, a powerful computer, and a lot of training in how to use it correctly. Once that was attained, you’d have to produce a file to send off to the printer to be printed and bound.  Handling copyright gets tricky, and it is usually the publisher that has to handle all the details for the author. Since this is the work of professionals, the average Haitian doesn’t get their hopes up about becoming an author, despite the rich cultural knowledge and stories they have to tell.

Bloom removes these obstacles from would-be authors. In a recent week-long workshop, funded by USAID, SIL consultants Doug Higby and Elke Karan provided Bloom training and educational expertise to the Haitian office of Library for All, which is leading the local book authoring effort, directed by Françoise Thybulle. During the workshop, the local team mastered both the software and the easy-reader methodology and will now train local authors in order to meet their goal of 200 new books.

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Because Bloom handles copyright, there are no surprises when it is time to publish. The software includes a library of illustrations that may be used freely, giving credit to the illustrator on the provided credits page. Bloom already knows local bookmakers need a cover, a title page, and a credits page, so those are provided even before the first word is written.

For these easy-reader books, the letters of the alphabet to which students have already been exposed are entered into the software. Lists in the margin then display all known words the author can make with those letters. The software also watches to make sure sentences aren’t too long, and that there aren’t too many words on a page. Go over the limit, or insert a character not yet learned, and the text turns a different color to warn you. When the time comes to print, Bloom takes over, arranging the pages in the special folded book order so the book can be sent directly to the printer from the computer. Final step: grab the pages that come out, fold them, and staple the book.

Of course, printing is still expensive. Bloom can also produce electronic books in the format of either ePubs, or apps that run on Android, and soon-to-be-added iOS.

SIL wishes success to the Haitian team with Library for All as they take what they’ve learned, and produce a lasting library and legacy for Haitians.

During the workshop, the participants were given a tough assignment. Using Bloom, they were to author a children’s book that was 6-8 pages long using a maximum of 20 unique words. After just two pages of work, the status indicator for unique words was already past twenty. Repetition, though, is key. Soon participants found they could repeat phrases over and over in ways that facilitate children’s learning. “Anna gathered vegetables from her garden. She gathered some tomatoes. She gathered some onions. She gathered some carrots….” is how one woman handled it. With plenty of pictures and a storyline that extended past the garden, she met the goal of 20 unique words in her book. Writing children’s books is an art, but one that Bloom can easily guide these authors through.

For many years the Haitian language was not valued in the education system, in favor of the French language. As recent as 2014, the Haitian government approved the formation of an Academy for the promotion of the Haitian Creole language. This affirms the importance of teaching children in their mother tongue for better learning and comprehension. Of course, for any mother tongue education to succeed, books are needed to retain children’s interest. That is why this book creation program is so important.

An interview with Jameson Primé (University Teacher of Sociology and Philosophy of Education):

Quelle est l’importance d’avoir des livres en langue créole pour les enfants ?

Je pense que, puisque la langue créole c’est la langue maternelle des Haïtiens. Et l’importance d’utiliser la langue de cœur ça met l’enfant en relation en direct avec ce qu’on peut appelé... le principal vecteur de la culture--donc puisque c’est la langue maternelle, c’est la langue parlée quotidiennement par les parents et les enfants facilement. Quand l’enfant va à l’école, si on parle français à l’enfant, même si la base lexicale de la langue créole est constituée des mots français, la façon de lui dire les mots, l’enfant ne va pas rapidement saisir. Et si on commence avec des textes en Créole, ça permet à l’enfant plus facilement d’avoir une base lexicale et un package lexical beaucoup plus garni et après au fur à mesure quand l’enfant grandi et que l’enfant apprend beaucoup de chose, c’est plus facile pour l’enfant dans notre langue, mais en commençant par notre langue par le Créole parlé en Haïti par les Haïtiens, c’est mieux. Sur ça et on met à l’enfant d’apprendre plus facilement.

What is the importance of having books in the Creole language for the children?

I think that, it’s because the Creole language is the mother tongue of the Haitians. And the importance of using the heart-language puts the child in direct relation with what can be called the main vector of the culture. Since it is the mother tongue, it is the language spoken daily by parents and easily by the children. When the child goes to school and they are lectured in French, despite that the lexical basis of the Creole language consists of French words, the way the words are spoken won’t be quickly grasped. But if we start with texts in Creole, it makes it easier for the child to have a lexical base, a much more complete lexical package. And afterwards as the child grows up and the child learns a lot of things, it is easier for the child in our language. To begin with our language, by the Creole spoken in Haiti by the Haitians, is better. With that we enable the child to learn more easily.



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