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(March 2008) Participants from two Bantu languages in Tanzania have produced literacy primers while testing prototype software during a two-week workshop. The Bantu Literacy Tool, a new computer program, was developed to help Bantu communities design primers. As a result of the workshop, the Vwanji people now have a forty-lesson primer and the Malila people have a forty-five-lesson primer.
The workshop was designed as a trial for the Bantu Literacy Tool, a prototype computer program developed by SIL Software Developer, Kent Schroeder. The Bantu Literacy Tool is designed to assist literacy personnel in the creation of Bantu primers. This was the first time the program had been used in a workshop setting. It helps the users to determine the teaching order of consonants, find buildable words for stories, check stories for untaught words and perform other key tasks in producing reading primers.
SIL Literacy Consultant Leila Schroeder led the participants in developing the primers that will then be used for teaching learners in their local communities how to read in their mother tongue. A critical component of a language development project is literacy. As previously oral language communities design writing systems, they need to develop a course for teaching people how to read their newly written languages. As part of a literacy project, reading primers are produced for teachers to use when conducting literacy classes.
There are more than 500 Bantu languages, located from Cameroon in western Africa to Kenya in the east, and south into South Africa. There are many similarities in the grammatical structure of languages in the Bantu family. Capitalizing on these similarities, the Bantu Initiative is an on-going cooperative project between four organizations, including SIL. SIL participates in the Bantu Initiative through its Africa Area Bantu Department.
The Bantu Literacy Tool is one product of SIL’s Bantu Department. Another product of the Bantu Department, Phonology Template Editor and Search Tool (PTEST), was developed to assist with the phonological analysis of a Bantu language. PTEST generates a phonology report, carries out various types of searches of phonetic data and accepts data from Speech Analyzer. SIL has developed more than sixty pieces of software to support the work of its fieldworkers, most available free to the public for downloading.