[Disclaimer: The irony of this post’s following immediately after the previous one is not lost on me!]
A 2-year + project is finally completed!
The highlighted words above are the lyrics to a song in Serer-Sine meaning “Christ, who is our salvation that we seek.” This picture is the screen of a smartphone displaying an app that I created (and yes, I had to buy my first smartphone in order to start the creating process back in 2015!).
SIL International developed a program called Scripture App Builder, which allows people (even non-smartphone users like yours truly!) to create a language-specific app out of already existing text and audio files. That’s what I used to create this Serer-Sine app out of a collection of 18 Scripture songs composed and recorded in the Serer-Sine language many years ago.
This app, which was finally released in September, highlights text line by line, as the user hears the recording of that text.
So far, I’ve been able to share the app with two different groups where I have Serer-Sine contacts who have smartphones. Through Bluetooth transfer, as long as someone has a an Android device, the app can be transferred from phone to phone for free.
SIL here in this country has a couple other apps in the works – and those are for the New Testament in local languages. In the same way as this song app, users would be able to see Scripture text highlighted and hear the recording of that text simultaneously.
This song app being the first app to be released by SIL in this country, there’s a lot of information SIL is seeking to collect even as the app is distributed.
For example, I and my SIL colleagues Laurie and Sophie gave a presentation on the app at my church here last month and shared it with church members who have smartphones.
Photos courtesy of Jim
As I transferred the app to their smartphones, I also collected the following information from them:
- what kind of phones they have
- which internet credit providers they use
We also asked the recipients to call us in a week and provide the following user feedback:
- what they like about the app
- what didn’t work and/ or what they didn’t like about the app
- how they used the app – reading the lyrics, listening to the songs, or both
- with whom else they shared the app and how (Bluetooth transfer, showing it on the screen)
With any new Scripture tool, creating it and making it available is only part of the work. One has to research and follow up to find out if it’s useful to the local church and in what ways.
I personally am very curious to see if such a tool could help with local language literacy learning. Reading and writing in the country’s local languages are so far not usually taught in the school system. If someone has gotten far enough in school and can read in French (the only language people are taught to read at school), mother-tongue literacy can be fairly quickly learned if the language uses the same script as French (most of this country’s languages do). However, there’s still a lot of practice needed before that person will be a fluent reader of his or her own language. There’s very little reinforcement of that in the society; materials written in local language are sparse.
So I wonder if an app like this, where the user is seeing and hearing highlighted text at the same time, could help new adult mother-tongue readers.
For me, the area of Scripture apps is fraught with other questions. It’s true that smartphones in West Africa are becoming increasingly available and affordable, so the number of users that I see around me is growing. However, that’s in cities. When I go out to villages, smartphones are rarer, especially among women. If Scripture apps can be useful to some, it will still be the case that they will be out of reach for many. Other tools and methods are still needed.
And that’s not to mention the ethical questions that such technology raises. Is the increased availability of smartphones a good thing? I’m fairly certain the West Africans I know would say yes. They are aware of the convenient changes made by such technology in their society – more accessible and affordable Scripture resources being only one. There was certainly keen interest among those from my church who chose to stay after the service to hear the presentation and to wait around for the app to be transferred by Bluetooth to their devices. However, are we aware of the negative changes brought about by such technology?
Hence the continued need for research and reflection concerning new tools such as this one…