Perhaps what Omolabake Adenle is trying to redress is simply the answer to this question: what are the top language-learning apps? Anybody knowledgeable about language app would definitely include any of Duolingo, Busuu, and Babbel on their list.
There would be no mention of an app that supports a Nigeria Language or any other sub-Saharan African Language except Swahili and perhaps Hausa.
When talk about the reversing the gradual extinction of African Culture takes center stage, many people are ignorant about how technology is speeding up the process.
There are dozens of apps teaching the youths of African foreign languages easily. Sadly there is no single app dedicated to teaching them their own languages.
This is why what Omolabake Adenle is doing is more than just an app for learning African languages. Halting the movement towards the extinction of indigenous cultures starts with apps like hers.
Shining a light on Omolabake Adenle
Perhaps, left to her, she would quietly remain in the background while she goes about the business of giving the world an African language app.
However, the African Innovation Foundation was set up to show the world what little-known innovators from the continent are doing. The Innovation Prize for Africa shortlisted her along with 9 other brilliant Africans for the 2017 top prize.
According to the citation on the website, her software
….can understand and digitize spoken African languages, and synthesize speech from African languages presented as digitized text.
Digitizing African languages in this way allows Africans to interact with hardware devices such as mobile phones, and digital services such as call-center applications by speaking their local language. The software can be integrated into a wide range of devices and third-party software applications.
While voice recognition and speech synthesis software have been developed for various Western and Asian languages, there has been very limited commercial application or academic research for African languages. The difficulty lies in modelling tonality present in most African languages and limited data resources for language modelling.
This innovation opens up opportunities for Africans with low literacy levels to also enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution.”
The impact of the software
The citation was all about the technical aspects of the software.
In real world applications, think of all the digital assistants being integrated into many smartphones like Siri found in iOS devices, Cortana for Windows devices, Google Assistant and Alexa by Amazon.
All these are gadgets that can execute tasks and commands like humans. Though their functions are limited to the digital world, they are revolutionizing the way people interact with gadgets.
The bad news for Africans and other third world countries is that these artificial intelligence gadgets are programmed to understand only the languages of the developed world.
This is where Omolabake Adenle comes in with her software. When fully developed, people, especially Africans, have the option of using digital assistants programmed to use their local languages.
Omolabake Adenle, and her Aja.La Studios, has already released the first app in the series. Called SpeakYoruba, the app would teach people how to speak and understand Yoruba, one of Africa’s most prominent tribes.
It is noteworthy that Yoruba is her tribe. Talk about charity beginning at home.
On the website, there is only an iOS app. The development of the Android app should be speeded up if she intends to reach most of her target users as soon as possible. After all, Android is Africa’s most preferred operating system
It is fair to say that the development of apps by Aja.La Studios would depend on the success of SpeakYoruba app. But why shouldn’t it succeed?
The design of the app has primed it to become a hit with anybody interested in learning the language.
The app uses easy-to-understand animated flash cards, pronunciation guides and a basic Yoruba vocabulary to guide one through the process. And to make it addictive, it is fun to use with a simple interface.
At 35, you get the sense this is just the beginning for her. She is not giving anything away though.
But for someone who already has a Ph.D. in Bayesian Signal Processing from Cambridge University, it is very likely her innovation locker is bursting at the seams with ideas just waiting to be unleashed.
It is a sure bet that many Africans around the world would be rooting for her. After all, who doesn’t want an app that can speak to them in their own native languages?