Umasoye: A language activist who uses technology to make learning Ekpeye fun

Photo provided by Franca Umasoye Igwe and used with permission.

This week we spoke with digital language activist Franca Umasoye Igwe, who goes by Umasoye. From Nigeria, Umasoye is interested in the intersections of technology, media and Ekpeye language preservation. The Ekpeye people are an Igbo subgroup living in the Ahoada regions of Rivers state, Nigeria. Umasoye brings together her passions in the NGO that she founded, the Speak Ekpeye Fluently Language Initiative. The website makes it clear that Umasoye has put her belief that language sustainability should be engaging and fun into practice — the interface is bold, colorful, and inviting and includes resources such as free language books, lessons, and a dictionary. Last month, Umasoye and her team also created a winning project titled “project Afrilingo” at the World Summit on Information Society Hackathon, which hosted the event in partnership with the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. The project includes the creation of a gaming app to learn about Indigenous languages and cultures. Learn more about Umasoye's commitment to spreading the Ekpeye language through digital media in our interview with her below.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Franca Umasoye Igwe (Umasoye): My name is Franca Umasoye Igwe, but I prefer to be called Umasoye. I'm a Nigerian born creative writer, tech enthusiast and an advocate for indigenous languages. I am skilled in photography and digital marketing, and currently pursuing a degree in agricultural extension and rural sociology at the prestigious Rivers state university.  I'm very passionate about using tech for the sustainability and revitalization of Indigenous languages. Recently I ideated a solution for language loss “project Afrilingo” which emerged as the winning project.  I was able to co-create this with two techies during the WSIS hackathon for Indigenous languages. I want to be able to tackle the problems of language loss as much as I can through tech. In 2020 I founded the Speak Ekpeye Fluently Language Initiative. This is an NGO committed to revitalizing the Ekpeye language, a minoritized language spoken in Rivers State, Nigeria, which is at risk of going extinct. Through my advocacy with my team, I have been able to create a learning environment for the Ekpeye language in digital spaces (on the web and social media). I believe that every child should be given a fair opportunity to learn their mother tongue before any other language as this is essential to their identity and to preserving indigenous languages.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

Umasoye: The Ekpeye language is gradually gaining presence in the online space through the work of the Speak Ekpeye Fluently Language Initiative. We look forward to having more accessible resources online in years to come. Offline, the language is spoken mainly by elders as the Gen-Zers and millennials seem uninterested. This challenge we aim to tackle through the use of digital tools.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

Umasoye: My motivation for having Ekpeye in the digital space is to see that young Ekpeye youths embrace and learn their language in a relatable space. Hopefully this will reduce their language apathy.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

Umasoye: Some of the challenges that prevent Ekpeye being fully utilized online are:

  1. No proper documentation of the Ekpeye language in recent times.
  2.  Lack of funding for developing special apps or web environments between learners and native speakers.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

Umasoye: Young people can be encouraged to learn their language by using a fun and interesting approach that appeals to them while educating them on the importance of language sustainability. A fun approach that can be used is music, the creation of language gaming apps as well as family influence.

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