New mobile app aimed at teaching children Yoruba

Abake Adenle is a quantitative analyst who lived alternatively between the US and Nigeria whilst growing up. Now based in London, Adenle has developed a mobile app, SpeakYoruba, aimed at teaching children of the African diaspora the West African Yoruba language.

How we made it in Africa asked Adenle about the African diaspora, the Yoruba language, and the steady inclusion of African languages in the ICT arena.

How did the idea for SpeakYoruba come about?

I came up with SpeakYoruba primarily as a way to help my young nieces and nephews develop basic Yoruba language skills. Having grown up in the States learning Yoruba from my parents I understand the difficulties of learning a language ‘out of context’. Watching them grow up in the diaspora, I wanted to create something that would remove the ‘work’ from learning Yoruba. I wanted to develop an app that was educational and visually stimulating and that makes the Yoruba language engaging, accessible and fun.

Who are your target customers and why do you think they will be interested in the app?

SpeakYoruba is primarily aimed at children in the Yoruba-speaking diaspora. However, I’ve found that SpeakYoruba appeals to a wide age demographic, from young children who appreciate the animations and consider the app more of a ‘game’, to young adults and teenagers who are looking to build their Yoruba language skills having grown up not speaking Yoruba. I’ve also found interest from people outside the Yoruba-speaking diaspora who appreciate the Yoruba language and culture.

Why do you think it is important for children of the African diaspora to learn their traditional language?

I think Yoruba is a beautiful, rich language and learning the language is a way to enjoy the various layers of Yoruba culture as reflected by the language – the proverbs, poems, literature, art and music of Yorubas all become accessible with knowledge of the language. This is true for all African languages.

I think language skills are especially important for children of the African diaspora as language allows them to access their culture and history in a deeper, more meaningful way. By understanding/speaking an ancestral language, even at a basic level, I believe they better understand the role their heritage plays in their broader understanding of their cultural identity. This is especially important at a time when many children of the African diaspora are growing up within multiple cultures and across various geographies, mostly outside of Africa. It is quite easy for African culture and language to “get lost in the mix” within this plurality of cultures, especially considering the dominance of Western languages like French, English and Spanish in everyday life, and the increasingly important role of Mandarin.

SpeakYoruba is the first in a series of apps under my ‘SpeakAfrica Project’ aimed at promoting and preserving African languages, with aim of expanding across a variety of languages and features within the app to include a range of learning tools.

Why do you think African languages are starting to be more and more represented in the ICT arena?

As with most segments of society, technology plays an increasingly important role in the way in which we perform everyday tasks. Both Africa and the African diaspora are participants of the global technological revolution; it is only natural that technologists begin to embrace the needs of Africans when creating products. Developing African language apps is a natural progression from the traditional tools in place to learn these languages, enhancing the existing knowledge base with modern technology.