African language revived through children's textbooks

African language books

A native African language has been brought to the pages of children's textbooks for the first time by a Melbourne teacher.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

A native African language has been brought to the pages of children's textbooks for the first time by a Melbourne teacher.

More than 40 million people speak the Oromo tongue but, until now, it's been largely passed down by word-of-mouth.

Gareth Boreham reports.

19-year-old students Bariituu Abba Bullguu and Ikram Boru grew up speaking Oromo in their family homes.

But the indigenous language of Ethiopia was never something they learnt in the written form.

For Bariituu....her main teacher was her babysitter.

"It was really just word of mouth. So really my vocabulary is quite limited to things like 'Mum, I'm hungry- when is dinner? That kind of thing. So I wish I'd had these books growing up."

The books she and her friend leaf through are part of a new global teaching program passing down Oromo to the next generation.

It's the brainchild of Toltu Tufa - a twenty-nine-year-old born and raised in Melbourne, but with a fierce desire to preserve her Oromo heritage.

She embarked on her learning project after a global fundraising drive.

"So for me the significance is really for the older generation. It's for them finally seeing their language being promoted in the way that it rightfully should be as the fourth most widely spoken language in Africa and I guess for young children and people who grew up without any resources or materials, it's an exciting time. It means that we came together and we said we'd do something and well, here we are."

The Oromo people are the largest indigenous population in the Horn of Africa.

But throughout history their native tongue has been under threat of dying out altogether.

For more than a hundred years up until 1991, the use and teaching of the Oromo language in the written form was considered a crime in Ethiopia.

And keeping it alive is close to the heart of Oromo community members like Yasmin Hassen.

"The language in its written form is relatively new and young and so that amplifies its importance in passing it on to the next generation."

With colourful activity books, posters, flash cards and stickers.....

Soreti Kadir says it's a simple, but ground-breaking, teaching method.

"This is set to transform and absolutely revolutionise the way that young Oromo children actually learn their mother tongue."

A language revitalised.... by inspired African youth.