African languages: Lessons from my first bilingual storybook in Yoruba
In December 2017, I released my first bilingual storybook in Yoruba entitled Yoruba101 Ikini. Yoruba101 Ikini is a children’s storybook about Ade whose visit to his parents brings him into contact with several Yoruba people and events. Each encounter on Ade’s daylong journey presents the reader with various Yoruba Greetings, helping him or her learn about its use and context, which is the main objective of the story.
Where I’d released previous Genii Games works only as apps, Yoruba101 Ikini is available in print and electronic book as well as an interactive iOS and Android app. The process of developing and publishing Yoruba101 Ikini proved to be an exciting learning experience that could be useful to other developers and authors with interest in indigenous African languages.
Typing in Yoruba
The first hurdle that I had to overcome was typing in Yoruba. Yoruba spelling involves letters marked by dots (ọ), high (á), and low (à) tone marks. I found it difficult using my computer’s default US keyboard layout and popular fonts in Microsoft Word, MonoDevelop and TextEdit software.
Enter, the Yoruba Keyboard layout tool developed by Kola Tubosun and his YorubaName team! Yoruba keyboard layout is available for Windows and Mac computers. After installation, one can easily switch between the computer’s default and Yoruba keyboard layouts. The tool made a huge difference for the Yoruba101 Ikini project. Typing became easy with basic shortcuts for the Yoruba letters.
Publishing Yoruba101 Ikini book on Amazon
Publishing the Yoruba101 Ikini book on Amazon presented another challenge. After I updated the manuscript, it had to undergo Amazon’s review process for approval and display on the bookstore.
A few days later, I received an email from Amazon saying its Kindle (e-book reader device or app) doesn’t currently support the language of the content in Yoruba101 Ikini. Yoruba, the language in this case wasn’t even referenced by name. Ironically, during development, I had successfully tested the book on my Kindle reader (device and app) and didn’t see any problem with displaying Yoruba texts.
Clicking on the link of supported languages confirmed the non-inclusion of Yoruba among other native African languages. I was curious about the rationale behind the inclusion of Afrikaans and exclusion of other African languages like Yoruba with millions of speakers, dedicated scholars, structured curriculum, and publications. So, I decided to appeal my case.
I was a little apprehensive, as a rejection would affect my marketing plans, which were already underway prior to its release. Eventually, Amazon wrote back saying it’d been approved! Thus, it was obvious Amazon listens. Good thing!
Developing Yoruba101 Ikini App using Unity3d
Developing the Yoruba101 Ikini app using Unity3d game engine also presented a challenge relative to Yoruba spellings.
The default Arial font on Unity3d didn’t do a good job with presenting the Yoruba spellings I’d successfully typed out in MonoDevelop. I ended up experimenting with different fonts. For iOS publishing, Helvetica font properly displayed the Yoruba spellings on the emulator, iPhone and iPad irrespective of models. This was a reinforcement of Apple’s uniform standards across iOS devices.
With Android, I found that one font type could display the Yoruba spellings in different ways across Android phone models and brands. This was evident during the beta-testing phase when a user shared screenshots of the app, which looked different on my Android device.
The solution around that was in an Android supported font call Roboto, thanks to this thread. Apparently, it’s a default font supported by every Android phone (I stand to be corrected). With Roboto, my Yoruba spellings turned out well and uniform across all Android devices I tested on.
When it comes to promoting native African languages, some activities involving other people and platforms may sometimes seem isolated until one has a firsthand experience that shows otherwise.
My experience with Yoruba101 Ikini reinforces the symbiotic nature of the people, works and guidelines that must exist towards promoting native African languages across multiple platforms. In a nutshell, they are closely connected for the greater cause.
Click the links below to get the Yoruba101 Ikini book (e-book and print) and app (Android & iOS).
Yoruba101 Ikini book
Yoruba101 Ikini iOS app
Yoruba101 Ikini Android app