Together with two veteran missionaries and a handful of Menyan men, Wes and I spent last week writing four primers for our upcoming literacy program. Dianne and Annette, missionaries who have completed literacy programs in their own tribes and helped numerous others do the same, walked us step by step through the process of the tried and true method.
The process started with the language data Wes has been collecting and filing since 2009. With tens of thousands of words typed into the computer using the alphabet we have settled on, Wes and I analyzed the language for syllable patterns, and letter frequency. Based on this work and the “usefulness” of letters we ranked our letters in an order in which to introduce them. Our primers consist of what we call “teaching pages” where new letters are introduced and “reading pages” with stories to practice reading the increasing collection of learned letters. On the teaching pages, we have a picture labeled with a word that introduces the letter/sound we want to teach. With this, there are charts combining the new letter with previously introduced letters. Following each teaching page are two or three reading pages with short stories using the letters that have been introduced so far. The first few reading pages sound a lot like “See spot run” because of the limited options for words that make sense.
As Dianne and Annette kept everything moving and organized, Wes and I worked with our Menyan helpers to write stories that made sense using whatever letters we were limited to on a particular page. The guys caught on quickly and were a huge help.
With primers laid out, we now need to format them, then print them (a job for the print shop at our base in Goroka) along with all the flash cards and other teaching material we will use for the classes. Additionally, Wes will be writing more practice stories and a teaching manual in the Menyan language. We will teach the first few literacy classes of ten to twenty students, but then we will train local teachers to continue the work as we move on to our next task. So all the material and all the resources for teachers has to be produced in Menyan. While I return to language-learning, Wes will hammer out the last stories and the one to two hundred page manual.