Tigrinya Learning: New Approaches and Prespectives

This brief note is intended to focus parents and Tigrinya teachers on the need to explore creative ways to approach the Tigrinya teaching endeavor so that it yields the greatest possible outcome in children's progress.
Feb. 7, 2016 - PRLog -- The traditional teaching approach to the Tigrinya language has always been one that is rote based. It is a system that mainly depends on memory and rhyme. The ordering of the vowel formations in each of the 32 distinct Tigrinya sound groups are identical, hence forming a repetitive pattern or rhyme (such as: "se', su, si,sa, sie, s, so" and "be', bu, bi, ba, bie, b, bo" ...) across the groups.  Such rhythmic ordering, thus readily lends itself to the task of short term memorizing.


The problem with such an approach may not be easily noticeable when the language is taught back home in Eritrea or other Tigrinya speaking regions. This is mainly because there are other factors, such as environmental and social, that play a part in reinforcing the memorized symbols, so that they are further committed in to the long term memory. In the diaspora, where the language is not spoken outside family circles, such assistive factors as environmental or social, are minimal. For that reason, the task of memorizing 224 individual symbols involving 224 distinct sound becomes too enormous. Hence, a systematic approach, with grammatical perspective in mind, is essential to circumvent the problem and make the teaching process adaptive to the learner's environmental realities.

Ideally, the written form of the Tigrinya language is best taught at the earliest time possible when children are 3 year old or slightly before. However, the approach to teaching the symbols and sounds of the language needs to put the child's age and developmental stage into account. As discussed above, the traditional approach of horizontal progression through each sound's vowel form can be very difficult for the learner. Instead, the early stages of introducing the child to the letter symbols of the Tigrinya language should only involve familiarizing them with the 32 distinct sound letters going vertically down the alphabet chart. This stage of learning is very critical foundational work. Children as young as 3 years of age are capable of handling lists that are 32 letters long. In other words, the child must spend sufficiently long enough time to fully familiarize themselves with the first letter of each Geez sound. Over the following 2 years, until they are 5 years old, children can go through a variety of activities designed to familiarize and reinforce the basic forms of each Tigrinya sound's letter symbol. Such activities as: using selected books that exclusively work through first letter alone (e.g. Weledo's My First Animal Book in Tigrinya), ordering or recalling flash cards, coloring, paper cutting, DVDs, software etc... are but few of the recommended approaches.

Once a child has secure knowledge of the basic letter forms for each sound (he, Le, He, Me...), they can then learn the vowel formations in six additional transformations that are done to the first form. Again, the approach that would yield a speedy understanding is not horizontally reading through the vowel forms but vertically analyzing how each vowel form alters the first form in all the letter sounds , i.e. instead of teaching "be, bu, bi, ba, bie, b, bo", the focus will then be shifted to studying the second order, i.e. the "oo as in book" sound, and learn that such a transformation is achieved by affixing a horizontal line on a mid-way to the right side of the first letter form in all of the first letter alphabets (duly noting the four cases of exceptions). Once such skill is mastered, the child would then be progressed to the next vowel form and so on. It must be noted, however, that children (especially those born in the diaspora) may not be ready until the age of 5 or 6 years of age, to go through the full set of vawelic transformation rules.

The intent of this brief note is to focus parents and Tigrinya teachers on the need to explore creative ways to approach the Tigrinya teaching endeavor so that it yields the greatest possible outcome in children's progress. If children in your home or school are struggling to memorize the vast arrays of letter symbols that they meet in their Tigrinya school, it may be time to evaluate if the traditional, rote based approach is the core of the problem. Weledo has recently published the first of its kind book (see link) which exclusively presents the first letter symbols of the Tigrinya language alone. We think that such an approach will yield the greatest dividend in the learning progress.

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