Is Language Boring?

This is the first in a two part story about a USAID Uganda School Health and Reading Program materials development workshop in Uganda written by SIL LEAD consultant, Agatha J. van Ginkel. “Like” SIL LEAD on facebook to get notifications about part two.

Looking at their gestures, it is absolutely not boring! It is not boring to think and talk about grammar of your mother tongue. Imagine the enthusiasm in a room where new stories and teaching materials are being created for the heart language of a community that has never had the opportunity to learn in this way before. This is a look at several different aspects of a materials development workshop that are a part of the USAID Uganda School Health and Reading Program. 

Our Ugandan linguist is working with the Ugandan language specialists of two languages to select which morpheme to focus on for advanced blending and segmenting exercises.

A morpheme is the smallest, meaningful part of a word. And these grammar exercises divide words like “unbeatable” into its morphemes, “un-beat-able”so that the meaning can be gleaned from the parts of the whole.


The linguists and language specialists work the whole day together to think through their languages. They need to get the right information to help the learners in grade 4 develop advanced skills for reading fluency. 

In the earlier years or primary school, the children learn to blend and segment simple words into syllables. In grade two, they also learn to recognise the most frequent morphemes of the language for quick word recognition, but after grade two this is a skill that needs to continue to develop. This is especially important in languages that like to cluster many morphemes around the root of the word. 

As the linguistics and language specialists wrestle with grammar, the illustrators are scratching their heads. They were used to drawing large illustrations with many details that showed real life situations. Rather than drawing an illustration of 2 by 4 inches, they have to draw two illustrations that are much smaller. They were thinking and thinking how to do so. In the end, they decided to draw within the small square of the provided box to make sure that their illustration will fit into the space available.

In the student book for grade 4, the illustrations have a different role than previous materials developed for grades 1-3. The illustrations help students predict what the text is going to be about. The smaller illustrations challenge the students to get their information from the text rather than the illustration. 

Competing for Books

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

It is hard to imagine, from an American experience, schools or communities without books and libraries for children. But it is a reality for many language communities and schools in other parts of the world, including the schools involved in USAID/Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP) project in Uganda.

Photo:  Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

In March the project held a Reading Competition in the Gumba district. Twenty-seven schools came together to celebrate reading in the local language and to engage the community in encouraging students’ reading. This event was organized to boost interest among children and parents in education and mother tongue literacy.

The participants each received a stack of exercise books and pack of pencils for their classrooms. But as a volunteer Kerry observed, “We had spare A4 photocopies of the paragraph that children read and there was a bit of a scramble to get these to take home—such is the lack of any books or reading material in most children's homes.”

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Books, when readily available, can easily be taken for granted. But they are a powerful tool for building imagination and self-esteem. As Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO has said, “Literacy is the door to knowledge, essential to individual self-esteem and empowerment. Books, in all forms, play an essential role…”

This reading competition not only brought a community together to celebrate reading and provide books, but it was appreciated by the District Education Officers who are now encouraging schools to organize more of these, in classes, to build confidence among learners and provide creative outlets for them to practice their reading skills. The event is also helpful for the teachers to evaluate their students. Charity Baguma, the event organizer, reported that the event “communicated that some children still had fear of talking in front of the groups, others couldn't read a word; while other schools were putting books to excellent use, and this was evident in the reading skills of their learners.

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

On this occasion of World Book and Copyright Day, an annual event organized by UNESCO, take time to appreciate the many different worlds, experiences and people that are available through words crafted to fuel imaginations and impart knowledge. Encourage your children to read and appreciate books in a new way because it is a privilege. Our goal is to help more language communities to have this same access to books through the support of projects like SHRP.