Bungu writing system now ready for testing, literacy training

After years of research and testing, the Bungu team received a very encouraging email: the writing system they developed has finally been granted Trial Orthography status. “It’s an official way to describe our progress,” explained Stephen Katterhenrich, the team’s Translation Advisor. “It means that our Bungu writing system makes sense and may work well, so let’s continue to test it out.”

Suddenly, the team was ready for the first-ever Bungu literacy workshop. They quickly prepared some materials, and set off for Mkwajuni town…

About fifteen people participated in the workshop. Although they speak Bungu everyday, reading and writing proved to be more difficult. “Bungu has a challenging tonal system,” said Katterhenrich. “Writing it down involves a tricky system of symbols. The national language, Swahili, is quite simple in comparison.”

After four days of intense lessons, everyone involved were mentally exhausted. Learning their new system proved difficult and, even after four days, most had not mastered it. Throughout the week, the team heard people say, “Bungu is hard,” but also, “Bungu is easy!” Because it is their own language, some things came very easily to them and they managed to understand the basics.

“The rest will come with time and experience,” said Katterhenrich. “It was a joy to see people reading and writing for the first time in their language.”

Two of the participants needed glasses; they were nearly blind without them, but did their best to learn the writing rules anyway. Some were educated Pastors, while others hadn’t even attended high school. But they all had an eagerness to learn. The team hopes that, over time, the Bungu people will grow more comfortable with their writing system and take a greater interest in reading.

“The higher aim of this transitional literacy workshop,” added Frank Mwaluanda (the team’s Literacy Specialist), “was not just to teach some random people to read and write Bungu. Rather, we want to find Bungu speakers who are willing and capable to become teachers themselves.”

The workshop participants were very happy, especially to see their language written down. They said, “Now our language will be preserved. We’ve made history — and put Bungu on the map!”

This story was written for SIL Tanzania by:

Stephen Katterhenrich (Translation Advisor)

SIL International is a global partner among academic and professional organisations which offer language development services. SIL works alongside speakers of more than 1,700 languages in over 100 countries. Active in Tanzania since 1989, the organization makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.