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Effective development speaks local languages

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05 August 2015

Effective development speaks the language of the community

This news piece was written and published by SIL International, a member of Micah, and is re-published here with permission. You can view it in its original location here.

July 2015

As governments and non-profit agencies collaborate on initiatives to address difficult problems such as poverty, malnutrition or the need to provide education opportunities, one aspect is often overlooked: language.

Representatives from more than twenty different organizations recently met in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the important role of language in education and development. The conference was organized by SIL’s Africa Area Advocacy and Alliance Building (AAB) team. Funding for the event was provided by Wycliffe Netherlands.

Studies have shown a definite link between language, education and development and there is a growing awareness that language must be considered in order for programs to be effective. For example, health information is useless if it is communicated in a language that few in a community are fluent in. In areas where cultural norms keep women close to home and many girls leave school early, women are less likely to be fluent in a language of wider communication. In such cases, the use of local languages is especially important for providing equitable access to beneficial—even life-saving—information.

The conference included a keynote presentation from Professor Kithaka wa Mberia, a noted Kenyan scholar. Other plenary speakers included Professor Catherine Ndungo of the Kenyatta University Institute of African Studies, Professor Janerose Kabaara of Kenya Methodist University and Dr. Barbara Trudell of SIL (director of the AAB team).

Examples of programs that have incorporated local languages were highlighted. After several days of presentations and discussions, each organization represented was tasked with coming up with an action plan for how to factor in local languages in the implementation of their programs.

In attendance at the conference were development practitioners from twenty organizations and institutions, including regional officials from the Ethiopian government and a representative of the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development.

Conference organizer Susan Nyaga Anzuruni commented:

It was exciting to see organisations coming together, sharing experiences and thinking about local languages in ways they had never imagined possible. The rich reflections will most definitely affect how these organisations view local languages as tools for empowering the beneficiaries of programmes. 

We are already receiving exciting news as delegates begin to advocate for the role of local languages, presenting language as the missing link in their programme approaches. At the end of the two and half days, most participants felt that this kind of conference should be held annually or biannually.