Saturday, 11 May 2019 02:57 | Written by Billion Temesghen
A fun way for Eritrean children to learn their Tigrigna Fidel is now through the Merhaba Tgrinya application, an iOs app rated at 4.6 that will soon be available in its android version. Mr. Biemnet Kibreab, an Eritrean from Los Angeles, USA, developed the app to be used as an interactive educational application that provides a comprehensive curriculum helping children to build their skills to read and write in Tigrigna. The App will give Eritrean children modern learning tools so that they can read and write in Tigrigna. With the help of animated letters, rich images and audio, users will be able to go from learning letters/syllables to being confident with reading and writing full words and sentences in Tigrigna.
- Thank you for your time, Mr. Binemnet. Tell us first about yourself.
My name is Biemnet Kibreab and I was born in Asmara, Eritrea. I currently live in Los Angeles, United States. I moved to Los Angeles from Uppsala, Sweden, to study Economics at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). After completing a degree in Economics from UCLA, I have been working in the world of Investment Banking and Finance.
- Can you please introduce the application you built to our readers?
The iOs app is called Merhaba Tigrigya and it is designed to make learning Fidel (the alphabets), reading and writing Tigrigna fun and interactive. The app uses animated Fidel letters, rich images and audio, and reading and spelling games to teach users to go from learning Fidel letters to being confident with reading and writing full words and sentences in Tigrigna. Merhaba Tigrigya learning app is a safe environment for children and all users as there is no advertising or ability for an external party to contact the children or teen users.
Learning in Merhaba Tigrigna app is grouped in five categories: Fidel Alphabet, where the users are introduced to each Fidel alphabet, the sound corresponding to each alphabet and a word associated with that alphabet. In addition, to teach users the order of the alphabet family, a user is given a game to sort randomly ordered alphabet family in its proper order. Animated ordering of random letters will help users memorize the names of all the alphabets as well as the sound they make. For the listening, users will be presented with a game where each alphabet family is presented in a random order. The sound of each alphabet family will sound in order and the user is supposed to identify the right alphabet by clicking it. This section will help users identify the sound of each alphabet which is likely to reinforce learning the alphabets. Auditory learning of the alphabets will help users memorize the phonetic sound of all the alphabets and facilitate the learning of reading and writing. As for reading, after learning an alphabet family, the user is given an opportunity in this section to identify words that start with specific alphabets. The user is presented with a multiple choice option game of alphabets and words that utilizes those alphabets. As the user progresses in the game, the multiple choice options will increase in difficulty.
After learning an alphabet family and completing the Listening and Reading section, subsequently, the user will have opportunity to combine letters into simple words. Image and audio are presented alongside spelling to provide hints to the user. As the user progresses in the game, the spelling options will increase in difficulty. This is the spelling part of it. Lastly, there is a Word Puzzle that when the user has finally mastered the 32 levels of alphabets, and each of the above categories, he/she gets to play the Tigrigna word puzzles. There are several levels of word puzzles with varying degrees of difficulty.
- What urged you to build such an app?
I had never imagined myself developing an app and therefore did not set out to develop an app at all. The idea to do it came in August 2018 as a result of enrolling my 8 year old son in the community Tigrigna School in Los Angeles called School of Eritrean Languages in Los Angeles (SELLA). The school meets once a week on Sundays. I started volunteering as an assistant teacher in my son’s class. After about two months of interacting with the students and helping as an assistant teacher, I realized that our community needed modern learning tools that made learning to read and write in Tigrigna more fun and interactive using technology that the kids were familiar with. Since the SELLA meets only once a week, the children needed learning tools that would be fun and interactive to use at home.
I initially went to the Varies app stores to see if any interactive Tigrigna app existed that could meet the goals of supplementing the class room education and provide a fun way to learn to read and write in Tigrigna. After days of research, I came to the conclusion that there were no apps developed that fit the needs I was looking for. So I decided to spend my own money and time to develop an app to benefit my son, the kids at SELLA and our broader Eritrean community.
- What kind of response did you receive after you first launched it?
The response to Merhaba Tigrinya app has been super positive and has exceeded my expectations. Social media like Instagram and Facebook have been instrumental in spreading the existence of the app and also in receiving feedback from users all over the world. The feedback through user ratings on the Apple App Store has also been very positive; the app has a rating of 4.6 out 5 and has been ranked as high as #39 in the Education Category out of hundreds of Educational App’s. I was also pleasantly surprised by the use of the app by young Eritrean adults.
- Did you come across any setbacks while developing the app?
I really did not face major challenges while developing the app. I felt that it was important to make the design, the look and feel of the app modern and attractive so that the users would feel that it looked like any modern app they would buy in the App store. In addition, I had to figure out, pedagogically, how to design the flow of the learning to make it interesting and fun for the users. Therefore, I spent a lot of time working with a User Interface (UI) designer to design the interface of the app. Other than that finding the time to finish the app in a timely manner while having a regular job was a minor challenge.
- Do you plan on developing the app any further?
Yes! Currently, I am in the final stages of working on the Android version of Merhaba Tigrinya. I plan to continue to improve the app by incorporating any improvements suggested by users and others that have fresh ideas for improvements. In addition, I plan to add more interactive features and games to teach numbers, colors and Tigrigna grammar. Anyone who would like to suggest improvements or ideas should feel free to send me an email at merhabaTigrinya@gmail.com
- How important do you think it is for young Eritreans abroad to learn and use their mother tongue? What kind of efforts do you think should be laid out on the ground?
I think it’s very important for young Eritreans in the diaspora to learn to speak, read and write in Tigrigna and/or other Eritrean languages. Language is a key part of connecting with the Eritrean culture and identity. Although having modern learning tools like the Merhaba Tigrinya app helps, the most important way to learn to speak Tigrigna is for all Eritrean parents to speak to their kids in their mother tongue. Looking back at my childhood, I am able to speak Tigrigna today because, growing up in Sweden, my parents spoke to me and my siblings in Tigrigna. But achieving the goal of teaching Eritrean children to speak, read and write in Tigrigna is becoming more and more difficult with each generation born in the diaspora. It is, therefore, more important to support and get involved with community schools like SELLA and to be more creative with new learning tools like apps, well designed children’s books, and YouTube video etc.
- What are your future plans?
My short term plan for the app is to finalize and release the Android version of Merhaba Tigriyna app. My long term goal, in addition to continuing to improve the app, is to use the architecture and code of the app to develop an Amharic version of the app. Since the Fidel alphabet is essentially the same for both Tigrigna and Amharic, I will be able to use most of the app work that is already done.
- Good luck!