Helping Children of Papua New Guinea Learn to Read

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How Many Legs Does A Rat Have in Papua New Guinea

[Editor’s Note: this is a thank you letter which was recently sent out from one missionary who works here in PNG to a church back in America who has supported this literacy efforts among a people group called Mborena Kam.]

For years the Mborena Kam schools have been trying to teach their children to read their own language without the benefit of books. The books that were developed over 20 years ago had worn out and the government had shifted away from the vernacular pre-school approach to a full Elementary Prep curriculum. Your generous gifts have allowed the Mborena Kam to prepare over 80 books in their own language including an alphabet book,  and books with vernacular songs, finger plays, and games. In addition, your gifts are paying for  kits of Elementary Prep materials that will be used in 4 schools in the school year that starts at the end of January 2014.

In this next year we hope to help the Mborena Kam develop a full set of curriculum for the Elementary 1 school year. The Papua New Guinea government allows religious instruction as a part of the curriculum, so two times each week, the children will read and talk about a Bible story and sing Christian songs in their language.  When we were looking ahead at 2014, it looked as if it would be impossible to produce the materials due to lack of PBT personnel for all the data entry work, but God was a step ahead of us and he is raising up volunteers to help with the production of Elementary 1 curriculum in their language.  Please pray that these volunteers can help the Mborena Kam and others to produce materials for their Elementary 1 curriculum quickly.

    

Last July I had the pleasure of working with the Mborena Kam teachers as they learned to use the new Elementary Prep Curriculum that teaches children how to read in their own language. Thank you for providing the funding that enabled us to train a group of Mborena Kam teachers.

Below are a few stories from the Teacher Training Course:

“That sounds like a rap song. You were just talking. You weren’t singing,” said Gregory. I was sort of shocked by his analysis of my singing especially since I was using a simple tune that we sang hundreds of time in the car when I was a child in the 1960’s – hardly a time when rap music was around.  So, I decided that that American tune would not transfer cross-culturally to this group of Elementary Prep teachers.   I then asked what tune we should use and they said, “The Five Little Piggies tune” – a tune that is obviously used in all schools in the area.  As I think about their critique of my singing, I am still chuckling at being identified as a “rap” music person!

    

Later in the week, I asked all of the groups to look at their translation of the book “Looking for Legs” – a math counting book that talks about how many “legs” various creatures have.  The pictures start with snakes, which have no legs, and finish with millipedes, which have lots of legs.  It is a fun book that children enjoy, but there was one problem. I had them look at the rat picture and asked them, “How many legs does a rat have and they all said, “Two legs.”  Then they all looked at their translations and all had followed the English/Tok Pisin in which the rats had 4 legs.

In PNG cultures, however, rats have two legs and two hands.  Then we checked the other creatures. Ants and spiders had hands and legs in all 4 languages.  Centipedes had either hands only or legs only depending on the language. Millipedes showed even more variety.  Two  languages had all legs, one had all hands, and one both hands and legs.  In addition to this issue of hands and legs, when all 4 languages talked about hands and legs, they talked about legs and hands – legs always are mentioned first. After that discussion, each group revised their book. While they were revising, I assured them that it was OK for them to use their cultural way of counting legs and hands.  God loves variety and that variety was very obvious in this simple book.

    

The 3 week course in July was full to overflowing with games, songs, finger plays and helping the teachers to try to read and follow instructions in the new Elementary Prep curriculum.  Time after time I was reminded of the fact that they come from oral cultures in which they need to see and do things in order to learn.  Thankfully, the teachers all enjoyed role plays and some of them were quite ornery students, especially when the teacher threw in an English word that the children wouldn’t have known.

My favorite was, “Teacher, what is ‘sep’?  Are you talking about a man shaving?” The teacher said, “No. A ‘sep’ [shape] is something like a circle or a square or a triangle (more words that children wouldn’t know).”

Praise God with me for the teachers and for the large group of missionaries and interns who worked furiously at the office producing new books as they were written.  Because of all of their hard work, four language groups now have complete kits of materials for Elementary Prep with well over 80 books for each language group.

Thank you for helping the children of Papua New Guinea learn to read God’s Word.  [Amen!!]

Bible Translation Notepad

Teaching Literacy In East Africa – Pt. 2

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Primer Construction Workshop

[Editor’s Note: this portion of a newsletter below comes from a colleague of mine who serves with Pioneer Bible Translator and refers to a Literacy course that was jointly led by her and another lady from PBT back in 2010.  To read the thoughts and perspectives of the other woman, I encourage you to go back and read Part 1 of this two-part story.]

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“Boggle.  We have all played the game, and we all have that one family member who manages to find Shakespeare-worthy words with an impossible combination of letters.  In my family it is my Aunt Carol.  And that is exactly what would make her ideal for a Primer Construction team.  For the past few weeks the literacy team has hosted groups from 2 of our languages.  Our goal was to write and illustrate a textbook teaching adult illiterates to read in their mother tongue. 

“The first day of the workshop we had four letters.  2 vowels and 2 consonants and were issued the challenge to write good sentences or a story with only those 4 letters!  With each subsequent lesson we added on a letter and were able to use any previously introduced word.  It poses a particular challenge in the type of languages we work with.  Both of these languages are the type where you can express an entire English sentence in one word! 

“Typically the adjectives change their spelling in each sentence to match the type or “class” of noun it is used to describe.  I personally am very thankful I did not have to come up with their versions of Dick and Jane stories, we left that to the much more capable mother tongue speakers.”

“My specific role during the workshop came in the form of word control.  It was my responsibility to make sure no letter was used prior to its formal teaching and that there were only the specified number of new words in each lesson. When a contraband letter had slipped in or too many new words used I helped the team to rewrite the story or choose a word previously used to express a similar idea.

“It was quite a challenge to keep up with all the languages in the room.  The initial story was written in the mother tongue and then translated into Swahili or English by the team for me to enter into the computer database.  If it came to me in Swahili I would then translate it into English so our consultant could understand the meaning of the story.”

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“The first few lessons introduced 12 of the 36 letters in the language I helped facilitate.  In lesson 12 we had the keyword of Yesu (Jesus) and began writing simple sentences about our Lord.  By the end of the first week we had finished introducing the alphabet and were writing simplified Bible stories introducing the new reader to Biblical concepts, from creation to the cross to Philip and the Ethiopian Convert.  Again, all these stories were held to a strict standard of only a designated number of new words in each story. 

“The past few weeks, and months of preparation work, have been an immense blessing to me.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship with people motivated and willing to sacrifice their personal time to see their people group able to interact with Scripture.  Not only did I greatly increase my vocabulary and understanding of the language I helped facilitate but I gained experience in building a primer in a previously unwritten language that I pray will be useful with subsequent languages. 

“My husband and I came to East Africa for the joy of seeing God’s word accessible to every people group in their heart language.  It is the unique role of literacy evangelism to assist those without literacy skills or access to formal education to encounter God’s written word for themselves.  Pray with us that the primers and literacy classes that will result from the work done during this workshop will lead people to not just learn their abc’s but come face to face to the Living Word of God.”

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[Editor’s Note: I have shared some of the statistics of where we are at today in terms of getting God’s Word translated for every language group in the world that still needs it done.  Our science of linguistics and global mapping have helped us to identify that there are still just over 2,200 languages that have no portion of Scripture yet in their mother-tongue language.

Compared to some of the large world mission groups who are involved in doing Bible translation, PBT is quite small.  Currently we are working in 54 languages, which represents around 20 million people.  We are praying by faith that we will be working in 69 languages by the end of 2014, which would represent about 33 million people.  You can see that even our small portion is a huge one.

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But like I said in the last article, we must get literacy programs running at the same time that the translation work is being done.  The true success of a translation project is NOT when the translation is finished, but rather when people are reading the translated Scriptures and using them in their daily lives and in public, like in the local churches by the preachers.

The problem is the shortage of personnel.  We are having a hard enough time recruiting men and women to become translators to tackle some more of these 2,200 Bible-less people groups.  But for every three or four translators we have in PBT, there is only one person to help them get literacy programs running.  Please pray that God will raise up many more Literacy Specialists.]

Teaching Literacy In East Africa – Pt. 1

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 Translation and Literacy Must Go Together

Translating the Bible into the minority languages of the world is the primary task of Pioneer Bible Translators.  It has been my privilege to serve with PBT for 17 years now, and I have transitioned from being a translator working on one language in a remote area of Papua New Guinea, to where I am now a translation consultant, helping to check the final draft of a translated book of Scripture for many language groups.

As important as Bible translation is, there is anther task that is just as critical as the task of translation.  I am referring to the task of Literacy.  We know from experience that there are some projects that do finish translating the New Testament, or even the entire Bible, but because the people were never taught to read their own language, the translated book sits on shelves and collects dust.

What a shame that is to have worked for decades to complete a translation, only to have it be shelved and not read by the people.  That is one reason why during my linguistic training in Dallas to become a translator that I took a course called, “Literacy For Translators”.  This course gave us an appreciation for literacy, and we put our hand to the task of trying to create and teach new alphabets to each other in the course.

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In this course, we learned the importance of starting out slowly, giving students one sound and symbol at a time.  Even if students are able to read in a trade language, we must not assume that it will be an easy and automatic skill for them to read in their own language, which up until the time of Bible translation, had never been written down before.

The final project for the course was to come up with a new alphabet for the English language, and to write lessons and a story in the revised alphabet.  This is much more difficult than you can imagine since we all were highly literate and fluent in our native tongue, English.  But consider what learning English is like for someone who is learning English as a foreign language.

For example, we can say the words “through”, “threw”, and “thru” which all sound the same, but are each spelled differently and also have different meanings.  A harder problem for many is when you see the same vowel set and find out that the vowel is pronounced quite differently in each word.  Take for example these words “though, trough, rough, bough, and through.  And many more examples can be found.

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What we try to do then as linguists is to find a symbol that represents one and only one sound, and that each sound has one and only one symbol to represent it.  In our village language, we were able to identify 6 significant vowels and 19 significant consonants.  Other sounds were heard, but they did not produce significant changes in word meanings and so they did not become part of the official alphabet.

It certainly is a lot of work to create these alphabets, but once established, especially if they have this one-to-one symbol to sound correspondence, then it is possible for new readers to begin to learn how to read fairly quickly.  In my official “Revised English” (Reeviyzd Ingglish), I determined that there were 25 significant consonant sounds and 15 significant vowels and diphthongs (a slide between two vowels.)

In the remaining space below, and in the next week’s article on “Teaching Literacy in East Africa”, I have taken a portion of two ladies’ newsletters.  These two women were teaching the concept of literacy for two language groups.  By the end of the two weeks, each language group had prepared a full “Primer” (pronounce with the “i” in “bit” not “bite”) to take back and teach other people in their language group the alphabet and the basics of reading.  Please pray that all of the projects where we are translating the Bible will also be able to get full literacy courses off of the ground so the people can read God’s Word.

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a, i, l, k, w

Can you rearrange these letters to make words?

Now use those words to create a short story.

This was the first of many challenges given to the 15 local writers at the primer construction workshop this month. For two weeks guest consultants guided teams from two language groups to write 72 lessons. These will help adults learn how to read in their own languages.

This was the short story created by one of the teams for the first primer lesson using the letters above:

Ali ikala. (This is charcoal.)

Alila kawa. (That is a cover.)

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The first story is very simple, but as the lessons continue the stories get longer and introduce many more letters and words for the new readers to learn. By lesson 12 the letter “Y” is introduced and also the word “Yesu” (Jesus). At least one of the stories for each subsequent lesson focuses on the life of Jesus and His teachings.

These reading primers will be one step toward helping people who cannot read at all to learn how to read the Bible on their own. And those who haven’t heard the gospel will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus while they’re learning to read.

Praying over the finished Primers before they were sent to the publishers.

Please, Let Me Read!

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A THOUSAND WORDS ARE WORTH A PICTURE

There is one story from my childhood that stands out head and shoulders above all my other stories as you will see in a minute.  This is probably my mother’s favorite story, and I smile too whenever I think about this one.  It has to do with my love for reading.

My mother had read books to all of us as we were growing up in the family and from her I learned that books could be exciting to read.  They say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  And when you are a beginning reader that is probably true, for you look at the big picture, you see the few words underneath, but the picture helps to transport you to another world.  In time, you switch from looking at the pictures to reading more and more words.  But the idea remains the same, the story opens up all kinds of possibilities in your mind.

So when I was just turning 6 in Grade One, one of my favorite places was the school library.  There never seemed to be enough time to read books at the school, so I would sign out a pile of books each weekend and read them all by Monday.  Each story would take me to places that fueled my imagination and increased my thirst for knowledge.  It was a wonderful experience…..until the day I discovered there was a restriction.

One day, when I went to sign out some books, the librarian asked me, “Aren’t you in Grade One?  You are only allowed to check out books on that one shelf.  All the other books are for older children.”

Needless to say, I was totally broken-hearted at this news.  And when I got home and my mother saw how distressed I was, she had me tell her the whole story.  “Well!  You and I are going to have a talk with the principal on Monday about this,” she said.  At the same time, I was excited to think we could find a solution to my situation, and scared to think I would be going to the Principal’s Office on Monday.

Sure enough, on Monday we talked it over with the principal.  And guess what?  The three of us marched over to the library and the principal duly informed the librarian, “Mrs _____, I am here to inform you that this young man is now allowed to take out any book he wants from the library.”  Wahooo!!!  I was so excited, I immediately started into the Grade Two section and kept on taking out books and reading anything I could get my hands on.

I want you to know that I still have this passion for reading today.  I probably have anywhere from 3 to 5 books on the go at a time.  But the book I keep reading again and again is God’s Word.  It is still the Book of Books.  In many ways, it is my love for reading, and my love for God, that has combined to lead me into this profession of doing Bible translation.

And you know what?  The same thrill and joy I used to get when I read children’s books so long ago, is the same kind of thrill and joy I see in people of minority languages when they get their hands on Scripture in their own language.  Even if it is only a small portion of the Bible, or even a children’s level story book of Bible stories, the people will make great efforts to get a copy and try to read it themselves.

I will never forget the time I announced that the plane coming to our village to bring some brand new story books in their language was going to be delayed.  But I said, it should be here tomorrow by midday.  Well, the next morning came, and people started to gather around our house next to the airstrip.  I asked what they were waiting for, and they said they were waiting for the plane, waiting to get the new reading books.

Hours later, the plane finally arrived.  By this time, close to 80 people had gathered and waited the whole time.  We got the boxes from the Cessna plane, plus other supplies.  As soon as the plane had taken off, the people gathered around the book boxes and eagerly laid their hands on them.  I think there were 50 copies each of 10 simple story books that had been translated into their language.  And then the next thing was amazing.

No sooner had a person gotten a story book, but he or she just sat down right where they were and started to read.  By our house, under our house, on the airstrip, they all sat down and tried, slowly and carefully, to read the stories written in their language.  The only time they moved was when they got up to trade a booklet with someone else.  And they did that for the rest of the afternoon until finally the sun had set and they could no longer read.

Now remember, these stories made up into ten or twelve page booklet form, were either small Bible related stories, or nice cultural stories.  But the people ate them up as if their lives depended upon it.  Just imagine what it is like when they get a full book of Scripture.  (The book of Mark was finally made available in 2003.)  Then picture the excitement and joy when they will get the entire New Testament in their language.  I have heard of villages putting on celebrations that run a whole week long, there is just so much joy at receiving God’s Word in a language they can understand, they can’t contain their joy to just one day.

“Dear God.  Thank you for the ability to read.  And thank you so much that we can read about You and Your great love in a book called the Bible.  Help us Lord, to continue to get more of Your Word translated and made available to those who have not had the Bible in their language up until now.”