How do people read?

This week, I continue my series on the questions I was most asked while in the US. This week’s question is:

How do people read the translations, because their language is unwritten?

Most of the languages without a translation are unwritten. It follows that the people do not know how to read. There is no sense printing a Bible no one can read and no sense translating one that will not be printed. Also, 1/3 of the people in the world cannot read in the language they speak most often. So this question raises a key issue.

Rural literacy in Ghana

Rural literacy in Ghana

First,  if one develops a good alphabet, one that sounds like it spells and spells like it sounds, then teaching reading is easier than for English, much easier. An adult can learn to read in a few weeks or months of evening courses, not the years it takes for English. Also, ordinary people can teach each other, eliminating the need for professional teachers. Rural literacy programs can be run with volunteers at a very low cost. Using these methods, about half a million previously illiterate people in northern Ghana have learned to read their languages, with many moving on to English. And Ghana is just one example. See the video at the end about how one young woman in Senegal turned her education around through literacy in her language.

There are many advantages to doing literacy:

  • People who learn to read have a skill that allows them to do many other things successfully, such as having a small business. One woman told of finally being able to track what she had sold on credit, to whom and how much they had paid back. Imagine trying to remember all that, and the conflicts that might cause!
  • Young school drop-outs who learn to read in their own language are much more likely to go back to school and graduate. There are thousands of Ghanaians who are teachers, pastors, even some university professors and government officials who got a re-start in school after taking a literary class. Without that, today they would be uneducated peasants.
  • Farefare 7The children of women who learn to read are twice as likely to survive infancy.
  • Women in particular, gain many advantages when they learn to read in their own language. Here are some other web articles about that:
    What literacy does for women
    Famata’s story
  • People will come to a literacy class who would not come to church. At least one successful church planting program in Ghana starts with literacy for this very reason.

But for those who do not learn to read, the Bible is recorded. People listen to it on their phones, on local FM radio stations, in listening groups sponsored by their churches and in other ways. Indeed, listening groups where people listen to the Bible in their own language and discuss it, have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to plant churches and foster spiritual maturity in believers. Some will listen so many times that they memorize long passages. In addition, local choirs write Scripture songs which people memorize, ending up with a repertoire of dozens, even hundreds of Scripture songs.

Carrying out adult literacy for minority peoples erases a question some ask – should I do/support humanitarian work or evangelism/church planting? Through literacy, your money, your efforts and your prayers can do both at once!

One thought on “How do people read?

  1. Still in its early stages, the Waata translation project of Kenya began in 2011. Before, the Waata people had a very low opinion of their language and it was not recognized or respected by others. “I thank this organization,” said one of the Waata elders of Kenya’s Bible translation and literacy organization. “It has come to salvage our perishing language.” Now, in churches, more people speak their own language: testimonies and even sermons are in Waata. As the language is further developed and written, respect for it among neighboring language groups will also rise.


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