New Smartphone Keyboard App Builder ‘a Gamechanger’ for Mbelime Language-Speaking People in West Africa

An Mbelime speaker gets a good signal on his smartphone by being close to the phone mast

A keyboard that will help people interact with the Bible in the Mbelime language, spoken in West Africa, as well as giving Mbelime speakers a new sense of self-esteem, has been developed by a team serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The keyboard was developed in May and is already in use by Mbelime speakers.

Johannes Merz, who together with his wife Sharon serves with Wycliffe in Benin, says: ‘In the past few years, smartphones have become an integral part of life for many people in Benin, as they have become more affordable. Many people use them for the same purposes as others may use a computer.’

Johannes continues: ‘But for Mbelime speakers, there has been a problem. How can you write in Mbelime on your smartphone when you don’t have all the letters and accents available? They wanted to write messages to each other in their own language or enroll in Mbelime literacy classes that Nestor, one of the Mbelime translators, offers via WhatsApp. But they were frustrated, since they couldn’t properly write their language. Mbelime speakers kept asking, “When is there going to be an Mbelime keyboard for our phones?” It was painful repeatedly saying we didn’t know. Imagine not being able to write your language on your phone!’

That all changed when Keyboard App Builder, a new free app, was released in May. Johannes continues: ‘Up till then, developing such a keyboard was a difficult task that required advanced programming skills. This new app changed that. It was a gamechanger.’

Johannes downloaded the app, together with the Keyman Developer app, and got to work. First came learning the software, then creating an Mbelime-specific keyboard and the Mbelime word list to add the predictive text feature. After that, the development tools packaged the keyboard into an app that installs it on android smartphones. It is now available on Google Play and people can pass it on directly from phone to phone.

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SOURCE: Assist News Service