Community Upliftment and Literacy:

Last year we saw an eruption of predominantly oral societies seeing their language inwriting for the first time as numerous New Testaments were published. Growth and engagement in literacy and orthography (writing system) development was accompanied by deep pride and a sense of immense self-worth among the people—many of whom felt that having their language in writing has finally placed them on the map.

In about half of our projects, it was necessary to develop an orthography at the outset of the project. Thus, we trained many mother tongue speakers in linguistic subjects and guided them through the process of developing an orthography for their people. It is exciting to see so many nationals taking ownership of the literacy work for their own communities.


Ethiopia: 1 active programme (Maale)

Literate people so far: 36,094 Maale, and 5,560 Guji, Gofa and Dawro.

The Maale language will now be taught in local government schools.

2,323 men, women and children registered to attend Maale literacy classes last year, and 254 of them dedicated their life to following Jesus!

Over the years, through these literacy programmes, 8,484 people (8,122 Maale and 362 Guji) have accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour.


Literacy classes have been started for 5 Nigerian people groups (Arum, Buh, Eloyi, Gwandara and Numana).

In another 10 Nigerian languages, trial literacy materials have been prepared; but further work and the lifting of COVID and security restrictions are needed in order for the classes to start.

Malawi: We have 2 programmes (Sena and Lambya)

The Sena literacy programme had 864 students enrolled this year, and 26 people committed their lives to Christ!

We praise God for the planting of new churches, the opening of new Bible study centres, and the economic empowerment for women through the literacy programme.

Asia: Engaged in 12 relatively new programmes

253 students in 6 new projects (Aoli, Hiran, Kavina, Hido, Hali and Ayapa)

6 more language communities completed community orientation.

TWFTW-trained community literacy clubs helped adapt the government’s COVID-19 pamphlets and posters into the mother tongues of 38 people groups. These literacy workers distributed the information, as well as a limited number of masks and sanitisers.

Southeast Asia: Engaged in literacy endeavours in 5 languages (Purvachep, Bunug, Ganit, Nagut and Khatei)

142 students in 2 literacy projects (Purvachep and Bunug)

Classes planned to start in 2021 in three other language groups

More than 50,000 people have become literate through our literate programme in Africa and Asia

TWFTW was instrumental in establishing a writing system (orthographics) for 62 language communities, who are in the process of experiencing the power of literacy and education to improve the millions of lives represented by these nations in Africa and Asia.

0 Now Literate
0 New Writing System

Why is literacy important?

“In order for people to read their newly-written languages, literacy programs are needed.”

Many of the language communities in which we are engaged in Bible translation are oral languages. The language is only spoken and has never been in writing. There is no alphabet and no literature in their language. In some of these languages, we engage in literacy programs to teach the people to read and write their language. Based on their sound system, an alphabet is developed using the alphabet of the national or regional language as the basis.  Literacy programs are often planned and initiated alongside the translation work. This enables the people not only to read the scripture portions as they are published and the New Testament or full Bibles in their mother tongues once available, but it also provides them with a stepping-stone to further education.

How do we teach communities to read and write?

“If my language is valued, then I am valued”

Locals are given training in basic linguistics and assisted to develop the alphabet for their own language. Materials to teach the people to read and write their language are developed by the speakers of the language with assistance from literacy and linguistic consultants. Since the teaching books are developed by the speakers, each language group have their own culturally-relevant, uniquely designed and illustrated sets of materials to teach reading and writing in their own language. This helps new readers to engage with the topic and easily become literate. Once materials have been published, the community is trained in how to implement and manage a literacy program. A system is put in place whereby teachers can be trained and students recruited. As the Scriptures become available, either in portions or as a New Testament and later the full Bible, the speakers are able to read God’s Word. At the same time, indigenous authors are given the opportunity to develop other interesting literature, such as a village newspaper, historical stories, or fables. New readers can become fluent readers and a culture of reading is encouraged. This also awakens a sense of self-worth and dignity in these communities because language and identity are intricately connected – if their language is valued then they are valued.

What are the benefits of mother tongue literacy?

“If Bible translation is the vehicle for transformation, then literacy is the fuel that gets the vehicle to its destination.”

We are what we speak. When a person’s language is valued, then they feel valued. Many minority communities are expected to learn in a second or third language. This often has a detrimental effect on the person. It can impact them psychologically, socially, economically, and cognitively. Alongside this, many of these communities face discrimination and marginalization, which perpetuates poverty. However, when the mother tongue is put into writing and used in literature, the speakers start to value themselves. They identify easier with the topics they’re reading about and they are more able to develop their potential in all areas. This is because their cognitive development can take place in a language they understand. People who learn to read and write in their mother tongue first are more likely to succeed through the education system and less likely to drop out of school early. Adults who are literate in their mother tongue become empowered to be contributors in their communities and have a better chance of getting good jobs and having a more secure future.

“Our goal throughout our engagement is transformation of communities.”

More to draw from in writing about literacy in TWFTW

As is common among many ethnolinguistic populations, formal education for the speakers of the languages that we are engaged with is in their second or third language. Children are often alienated from their home cultures as they grapple with learning in a language that they don’t understand, in a culture that is foreign to all that they have known growing up. They often feel confused, overwhelmed, and traumatized by the schooling experience. The result is that many children are unable to achieve their education goals because of the obstacles to learning in a language that they do not understand. Many drop out from the school system completely. Studies have shown that the disadvantages that these children face impacts them psychologically, pedagogically, socially, linguistically, and educationally. This situation perpetuates poverty, discrimination, and inequality in these communities.

A person who learns to read and write in his mother tongue first has an advantage over one who learns in a second language first. This is because they are learning a new skill in a context that has meaning for them. They understand what they read, and it is relevant to their daily lives and culture. It affirms their value as a person because language and identity are intricately linked. If a person’s language is valuable then he is valuable. Also, those who have the foundation of education in their mother tongue are less likely to drop out from school and can go on to become contributors to the society and economy. There are therefore many cognitive, psychological, linguistic, and social benefits to becoming literate in the mother tongue.

Further development of literature that is interesting and relevant to the communities is also a priority as new readers need good literature to establish their skills. Books such as compilations of folk tales, local and oral history, basic mathematics, and monthly newspapers are often developed and illustrated by the people. The purpose of this is that they will become a literate society by using reading and writing in everyday life. Our goal is that the people will be transformed through reading and understanding the Word of God in their own language. Once initial classes have begun, we aim to engage with the communities in the use of their newly published Scriptures or Scripture portions.

Every effort goes into ensuring the successful implementation of mother tongue literacy in communities in which the Bible is being translated. This facilitates transformation of a community as they engage with the Scriptures through reading and writing and experience a sense of value as people. Literacy work is love in action.

The Basic Literacy Program is for first time readers. Illiterate or semi-literate mother tongue speakers start with a pre-primer where needed and move on to use the primers and accompanying story book. This entails a two-track system comprised of an hour each of the meaning-based track through engagement with a story and the primer track with instructions in reading and writing. This program takes between 3 – 6 months to complete, depending on the amount of lessons covered per week. For illiterate people it takes time to learn to read and write. Many people have had little education and not much to do with the concept of reading and writing. Others are school dropouts that just couldn’t cope with learning in a second language as is required in government schools. Children are also among those who benefit hugely from the foundation of mother tongue literacy. This foundation takes time to lay.

We have a Fast Track or Transition Literacy Program that is used in cases where mother tongue speakers can already read and write the script of the region. Because their own alphabet is based on the regional alphabet, they can quickly bridge to reading their mother tongue that uses an adapted version of the same alphabet that they already know. It is like being able to read Italian when you know the English alphabet, except in this case they’re reading a language that they fully understand: their own. These people learn to read within a couple of days or weeks. It is a greatly beneficial way of involving the literate and educated people from a language community in the program.

The mother tongue literacy program is designed to be used by both adults and children because the materials that are developed are appropriate for both groups. They are constructed by trained mother tongue speakers and include topics and vocabulary that are common in their lives and culture on a daily basis. The materials for each language community are unique. Although they share the same basic layout and methodology, the materials that one team develops contain completely different lesson content to another because it is a different language, with different sounds, structures, vocabulary, customs, people, and culture. The mother tongue literacy lessons usually take around six months to complete. Once a student has completed the entire course, which teaches both reading and writing, he/she is reading anything in the mother tongue that is written. They have mastered the entire alphabet and the spelling rules for their language through systematically going through the alphabet at a carefully regulated pace. Writing is also included in the lessons, but ongoing practice and accessible literature is needed for readers to become fluent in their newly found reading and writing skills. Many of these communities have been oral – meaning that their language has never been committed to writing before. The writing system is based on the national or regional language so anyone who has had exposure to reading and writing in that language (or language of wider communication) will be able to learn reading and writing in the mother tongue much faster.

Through the lessons, new information is built on the known and so there is a comfort level upon which confidence in reading and writing grows. Our experience has shown that children who have gone through the literacy program in the Maale project often skip the first grade of school and join school in the second grade. This is in an education system that is not in their mother tongue. Having developed the skill of reading and writing (decoding letters to gain a message from the written words), they can then transfer their mother tongue reading and writing skills to reading and writing in the second language that shares the same orthography (alphabet). Students can read the Scriptures and very quickly develop their fluency in reading and writing once they exit the program when they have access to more literature. This is also why having more literature is essential, and we continue to develop materials alongside the Scriptures that are becoming available in either portions, a New Testament, or the full Bible.

by Janet van Aswegen