The challenge of literacy

The fact that literate Oroko people think they need to be taught how to read Oroko flabbergasted me. Yes, the alphabet contains 4 non-standard characters*, but otherwise it's the same alphabet as used for English. It's marvellously phonetic; as a non-Oroko speaker, I have no difficulty reading it. They understand what it says -- what can possibly be so hard that they need lessons?

"They don't learn phonics here," Becky explains. Oh. Okay, yeah, that would make things much more difficult. I understand now. She continues, "Even if they did.."

Gasp! I see: I'm not saying it's wrong, but even the most well-spoken Cameroonian's English is decidedly *non-standard* by North American standards. Given the many exceptions already existing in English spelling, I can see how trying to teach phonics with such non-standard pronunciation would be very difficult.

So I must no longer give strange looks when I hear of Oroko people claiming they need to be taught to read in their own language. Suddenly I understand in a new way the enormity of the task of getting the Oroko to read and write in their own language -- and I gain an even stronger sense of its importance.

*Unless I'm forgetting something, the two consonants are a "d" with a curlicue (indicating allophones "l" "r" or "d" used by different dialects), "n" with a tail (indicating the "ng" sound which is common enough to warrant its own character). The two vowels are open "o" (looking like a backwards "c") and epsilon for the short "e" sound.


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