Being out of the bush unexpectedly has had a benefit of giving me time to finish off a piece of software I’ve been working on
Language learning produces a lot of data. Our team has 6 people full time learning the Kovol language and everyone is investigating language and culture and recording their findings.
So the question is how do we organise all this data? What do we do with the audio recordings, notes, observations, hypotheses and questions we get from each and every language learning session?
Here’s what I came up with, I called it CLAHub, and an example of it can be found at the link below. http://stevetasticsteve.pythonanywhere.com/ You can login as guest with password ChurchPlanting and try it out!
A while ago NTM developed CLAware as a filing option, but that’s not had an update for over a decade and it’s, well it was a bit clunky at the best of times and we’re not aware of anyone in PNG using it right now.
When we learned Tok Pisin we used Microsoft’s OneNote application to work in and that was great – flexible, polished and local. The problem is the version we used (2016 desktop) is no longer supported by Microsoft who are moving OneNote in a stripped-down, save data in the cloud only and prioritise mobile phones direction which just isn’t suitable for a tribal team with bad internet connections who need to really file information – and not just jot down a few notes here and there.
We need a program where a small team can file lots of information, save it locally (no internet needed) and then use the culture file at the end of it as a tool to synthesize our understanding of the culture and language into several write up papers we do at the end of CLA.
I’ve investigated several options, but in the end I decided that our needs were niche enough that I just needed to write my own software, and a hobby project was born that has become CLAHub 🙂
Using the Python programming language and Django web framework I’ve built a web application to suit our needs. If that’s all gobbledygook to you that’s fine – it’s the same technology that powers the Pintrest and Washington post websites 🙂
A web application is a program that sits on a server somewhere (in our case a raspberry pi), which multiple users interact with in their web browsers.
It’s available on any device that can connect to the network and takes care of the organising, cross-referencing and categorizing of our language data.
The basis of our filing system is the Culture event (CE). If I spend the morning planting yams with my tribal friend that’s a culture event. When I get back from planting yams with my friend I’ve got pictures of the steps involved, a bunch of notes and some audio recordings of him talking about what we did.
All that is pretty fresh in my mind and so when I listen to the audio recordings where he talks about what we did I have a context in my mind that helps me understand the new vocabulary I’ll be hearing; all while listening to grammatically correct and natural tribal language rather than the forced, unnatural language you get from asking “How do I say…?”
You hit add new CE in CLAHub and upload the pictures, record a description of what happened and upload the audio recordings.
The audio recordings (texts) have a space where you can transcribe them – that’s your language data. You can tag how accurate you think you transcription is and also what genre of discourse you think it belongs to.
You can write questions to your self (or team) about what you experienced and what you’re learning.
You can tag the culture event as belonging to an area of culture – in the yam example ‘1-10 Farming and Ranching’.
Then you can save the page and all that info is there for when you or a coworker come back to learning about yams, and on the next iteration you learn a bit more and record a bit more.
Your culture tags soon fill up, CLAHub showing you how many of each category you’ve got and organising them on a page to browse if you want to investigate everything you’ve discovered so far about “3-8 Health and sickness” for example. It also helps you spot aspects of the culture you’re missing – if you have no tags for “3-2 Family and Clan” you know you’ve got a direction to investigate.
Much later in our language learning, we’ll need to start making conclusions about the Kovol culture. CLAHub lets you pull up all the info you have for an area of culture which you can browse and start to put together a description of that part of the culture. You can export all the language data you have tagged as confirmed accurate and start to use it in linguistic analysis.
So that’s the main idea of the program. I also included the option to create a Facebook-like profile page for a tribal person. You can record clan info, education level and whatever you like along with a profile picture. That’s our favourite part of CLAHub so far – it’s helping us remember names of people and who they’re related to!
The latest thing I added was that CLAHub is now also a podcast server. Whenever a new audio recording is added it becomes available as a podcast episode, meaning we can subscribe to the feed on our phones and be able to listen to new recordings we or our teammates are getting.
All of this information that we put in is recorded in a database behind the scenes. When a user requests the page about planting yams all the info in the database is inserted into a web page and served to the user.
The best part about building your own application is that you can design it so that there’s only one way to do things – which makes things consistent and easy to use, and then the program can process some things automatically. Simply typing the name of another culture event causes that word to become a hyperlink to the relevant page for example.
CLAHub has been a fun project – and there’s still lots to do! As Gerdine and my other teammates are starting to use it now bugs are being found, usability is being improved and new features are being requested and added. The great thing about being the programmer is that I can adapt it to our needs as we go. The data is quite safe in it’s database and new ways of showing or organising it are (many) keystrokes away 🙂
As a programmer, I just need to make sure that I don’t spend more time developing the tool than using it!
For those who know what Github is (don’t worry if you don’t!!) you can take a look at the source code here:
Contributors are welcome, but get in touch first: I need to do a bit of organising and cleaning up to get the project ready to move from a one-man team, especially with the internet being so unreliable in Kovol! 🙂
Finally, I know there may be some other missionary teams who would be interested in this – get in touch. I’ve not had time to package it up nicely yet and getting it working on your own server will take quite a few steps. CLAHub is a work in progress too, be prepared to help develop it (with suggestions and feedback) if you start using it!