Viability of Mobile Phones for Language Development: a Grassroots View from Four African Countries, The

By Stephen Fierbaugh <>
Research by Stephen Fierbaugh, Andrew Eells, Chris Vickio, Emily Vickio, Octavian Msongamwanja, and Cate Burnett

Between July and September, 2011, an International Literacy and Development (ILAD) team traveled 4000km each by bus across Africa to determine if mobile phones and other Internet devices are a viable tool for minority language development.  Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Chad were visited.

Extant statistics on phone penetration are commonly based on the number of SIMs and overstate actual phone penetration in Africa because multiple SIMs are commonplace.  However, more than half of the adult population own a phone in most regions, and this is ample to make minority language development use feasible.  Multimedia­ capable mobile phones are widespread.  Android­ based smartphones are already widely available in some countries and will become standard in 2012, replacing “dumb” feature phones.

Standard short­wave radios which are widely used throughout the developing world now feature SD and USB interfaces for playing MP3 files.  This provides a culturally appropriate way for people to listen to minority language materials in groups without requiring donation of western audio equipment.

All African countries visited are ready for MP3 ­format minority language materials.  Kenya is ready for minority language materials in EPUB digital book format; Tanzania will be ready shortly, while Uganda will take several years.  Chad will not be ready for EPUB format materials for some time.

APA Citation:
Fierbaugh (2011, November) The Viability of Mobile Phones for Language Development: a Grassroots View from Four African Countries. Dallas: International Literacy and Development, Inc. (ILAD) 2011

Publication Date:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 – 09:00