The following Literacy Primers were designed to teach the illiterate Wusuraambya people to read and write their own language. Prior to the opening of a government school in the Wusuraambya valley in 1989 there were no literate Wusuraambyans. Though considerable effort was made by both SIL (Wycliffe Bible Translators) and New Tribes Mission to teach these people to read the efforts seemed to produce very little fruit. The government school began teaching people first in Melanesian Tok Pisin (Elementary grades 1-3) and then in English in the subsequent grades. But the vast majority of Wusuraambyans do not understand English even IF they can read it correctly, and though they converse with visitors and teachers in Tok Pisin, it is not their heart language and not the language they normally speak in when amongst their own people. Thus it was important to persevere with teaching them to read their own language.
About the Wusuraambya Alphabet
It was not until about 2002 when we learned that people prefered an alphabet that looked more like English, that we considered changing the way the Wusuraambya language was spelled. It was also about that time that we learned that the Wusuraambya dialect had some sounds which were different from the Baruya dialect in which SIL missionaries Richard and Joy Lloyd had worked for many years. When we made this discovery we finally dared to change the Wusuraambyan alphabet and start a new literacy program. This proved to be quite successful, yielding nearly 100 literates in the first 3 classes.
In many cases the English letters used in the Wusuraambya “orthography” have a slightly different sound than the English sounds the letters represent. For instance “b” represents the sound “mb” and “d” represents the sound “nd”. The current Wusuraambyan alphabet looks like this:
b d g h j k l m n ng p r s t th v w y
b=/mb/ d=/nd/ h=”g-fricative” j=/nj/ th=/d/ v=/”b-fricative”/
a aa e i o u uu
a= /ʌ/ aa=/a/ u=/ə/ (schwa) uu=/u/
The challenge of learning to read Wusuraambyan…
Now the big challenge came – how to teach people to read the long, complex Wusuraambya language where many words are 20-30 letters long, 10-15 syllables, and the odd exception is if longer:
So we begin introducing a syllable at a time over the course of 6 books, but starting with the simple act of holding a pencil properly, holding a page upright, knowing where to start reading (top left corner, from left to right, etc), and so on. As each syllable is taught we then combine it with the other previously learned syllables to form words and sentences. By the time we get to the last book they are reading long complex sentences. And after each primer has been learned there is an accompanying book (not shown here) which introduces a few more sentences and paragraphs using only the letters and syllables already learned, to give them a chance to practice.
After the last primer has been learned the new “literate” Wusuraambyans begin a series of post-literacy readers to gain more practice in reading their own language. Every week they check out and read a book and then return it before they begin the next one.