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Mother Language Education on the Frontline

Wednesday 17 February 2016 - 3:13pm


On Mother Language Day, PEN International celebrates and supports the civil society work on mother language education of our PEN Centres from across the globe.

PEN Philippines

The Healing PEN II: Workshops and Learning Resources

PEN Philippines will build on its previous civil society work with the programme ‘The Healing PEN II’, with the aim of addressing the current concerns around mother language education and literature in the country.  PEN Philippines will organise a series of two-day workshops on teaching Philippine literature throughout 2016 and 2017, for teachers of secondary and further education in the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao regions.

The Centre will re-design its website to provide a more accessible platform and to accommodate more data and materials, including a learning resource section for the teachers of Philippine literature.

PEN Philippines activities form part of a new International Programmes initiative jointly supported by PEN International and the Clifford Chance Foundation. The aim of the  initiative is to support civil society and capacity building activities in several countries including, among others, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi and Lebanon.

To read in Filipino, please click here.

PEN Afrikaans

Northern Cape Triple Seven rural writing pilot project

The Northern Cape, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, has a rich tradition of oral storytelling. Very little of that translates into writing, however, and there is a concern that, as fewer and fewer people choose to speak Afrikaans, this rich heritage could one day be lost to us, if we are not intentional about preserving the stories. Furthermore, none of the written stories reflect the rich experience of the black Afrikaans speaking communities in the province. This is partly because communities, especially the deep rural communities, are only semi-literate or functionally literate. The division between black and white communities are also generally speaking far more pronounced than in other areas in the country.

PEN Afrikaans has identified that disproportionately few black wordsmiths are published in Afrikaans. The last national census carried out showed that 60% of Afrikaans speakers are black, yet less than 1 % of published writers are black. It is thus clear that who and what gets published, is not a reflection of who speaks the language. They suggest that this may be one of the many indirect consequences of the Apartheid system that has not yet been rectified.

Through this project, PEN Afrikaans aims to keep the rich heritage of this area alive, as well as changing the perception in South Africa that Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor.  The programme will begin with a series of intensive creative workshops, run by PEN members across seven North Cape towns, with the aim of empowering and encouraging oral storytellers to write down their stories. The stories of these Wordsmiths will be made into an anthology and some participants selected for further development and mentoring. These ambassadors will be trained as trainers, empowering them to become teachers of creative writing in Afrikaans and helping to change the perception that Afrikaans is only used to oppress; demonstrating that people can be empowered in - and by using - Afrikaans.

To read in Afrikaans, please click here. 

PEN Malawi

Promoting reading and writing in official and mother tongue languages

In response to the stagnating governmental response to developing and promoting indigenous languages in Malawi, which affect people’s access to education and information, PEN Malawi is working closely with a number of PEN members, teachers, language experts, writers and journalists to develop one of the main indigenous languages in the country: Chichewa, which is also the de facto national language. Over 60% of the population of Malawi have an active command of Chichewa, however most information in the country is released in English.

PEN Malawi aims to translate essential materials focusing on core issues such as gender, environment, governance, entrepreneurship, climate change, and health concerns, to be shared with local schools and communities in the areas covered by the project. This will encourage wider participation into essential local and regional issues from communities and also set a pace and direction for the entire country.

To read in Chichewa, please click here.

PEN South Africa

In a country of great linguistic diversity and, because of the colonial and apartheid legacy, there has been insufficient investment in African language literacy and literature. The South African constitution guarantees full mother tongue based bilingual education but the dearth of reading material of quality for young children living in South Africa who are not English speakers, adds to the list of reasons for the systemic failure to achieve this to date - and the shockingly low educational achievement by huge numbers of students.

PEN South Africa’s project is carried out with PRAESA, which produces multilingual content and supports informal but high quality reading and writing development in the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign.  This translation project is helping to inspire and sustain children to read good quality books in their mother tongue. Nal’ibali promotes intergenerational reading and mentors adults to run reading clubs in community, school and library settings across six provinces in South Africa.

So far, two rounds of materials have been produced. The first was a series of story cards, which were translated, printed and distributed into reading clubs.  The second has been the translation into Xhosa and Zulu of George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy Hawking and Stephen Hawking. The book is due to be printed in 2016, Readings are being planned by PEN SA members of extracts of the book to children, which will be recorded and shared to support and advocate for reading science related story material in African languages as well as English.

Through this project , PEN South Africa will collaborate with local publisher, Jacana Media, thus  allowing PEN SA to feed into and support the local publishing industry in the development of African language children’s books for an emerging market.

By supporting story translation, production, and use, PEN impacts not only on the publishing industry’s development and engagement with books in African languages, but it also starts to: enable children to read material that sparks their imaginative, creative and critical thought processes; bring the adult literature and child literature worlds to connect; focus the debate about which books children should read; spark considerations about whether and in which ways translation is a ‘good thing’.

To read this in Xhosa, please click here.

PEN Zambia

Promoting Writing and Speaking In Indigenous Languages among Zambian Youth

In 2012, the Zambian government reintroduced Zambian languages into the education system from pre-school to grade 4, having recognised - after three decades of teaching English in the earliest years of school - that children learn quicker and more effectively in their mother languages.

PEN Zambia has, however, recognised that there are still numerous challenges with the use of indigenous Zambian languages in schools because most of the teachers do not have strong local language experience. PEN Zambia will work to promote indigenous languages appreciation and growth through a creative writing outreach mentorship programme to PEN schools Clubs and workshops for pupils (12-21 ages).

PEN Zambia will also train indigenous language teachers in contemporary methods of local language teaching through workshops, and writing, reading and speaking projects for young people. They will also produce resources for teachers through the production of visual and audio materials in local languages and through the translation of both local and international materials into local languages.

Through these workshops and related activities, PEN Zambia will create a platform for a national dialogue on indigenous languages, and will expose young Zambians to a variety of written and oral materials in order that they appreciate the value of indigenous Zambian languages and to encourage them to speak and write in these languages.

To read in Chinyanja , please click here

Wales PEN Cymru

Linguistic Rights in Eastern Turkey

Historically, the three Kurdish dialects of Kermanji, Sorani and Zaza spoken in Turkey have undergone extreme linguistic oppression on the part of the state.  Despite agreeing in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that 'non-Turks' in Turkey would be permitted to use their languages, the state reneged on their agreement and banned the teaching of Kurdish and its public use.

The period since 1990 has seen limited improvement.  It has recently become possible to teach Kurdish as an elective subject in all schools.  Great authors such as Mehmed Uzun have been translated into German and English and there is now a revival occurring in Kurdish literature and poetry.  The Kurdish dialects are in need of international support in their attempt to secure and practice their linguistic rights.

Wales PEN Cymru has partnered with Kurdish PEN and PEN Turkey to take this opportunity support Kurdish linguistic rights by running a creative writing and translation project in select schools in Eastern Turkey.  The project will be focused on a series of creative writing and translation workshops based around oral folk tales, using a format previously applied in schools in Wales. The Centre will highlight the linguistic rights of the Kurdish people via translation and sharing of traditional stories, and will use storytelling to express the importance of freedom of speech, and other rights.

Working across continents, PEN Wales Cymru will develop the project into annual school-to-school contact engaging in creative writing and translation, setting up contact between two Welsh and two English secondary schools in Wales with four secondary schools in East Turkey where Kurdish is being taught.  In this way they will raise the profile of both the Welsh and Kurdish languages and facilitate the sharing of folk stories from both countries.

To read in Welsh, please click here.