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Engaging with communities in their local language

by Carlo Fong Luy, Senior Programs & Partnerships Manager, ILC Africa & Cara Vetsch, International Development Analyst, ILC Africa


There are over 2,000 local languages in Africa, making it the most linguistically diverse continent. At the same time, contextually-relevant development projects and evaluations require practitioners to engage with communities in their local language. For example, early-grade reading assessments are often conducted in these local languages.


In order to get reliable and valid data, staff must have adequate fluencies in the local languages they are hired for. Currently, enumerators self-report language competence, with certifications and credentials existing at a higher-level, leaving a gap in finding local entry-level enumerators who have vetted local language skills. 

ILC Africa, a local development consulting firm in its 15th year working across Africa, saw a need for a local language proficiency assessment in order to promote consistency of results and ensure the proficiency of field enumerators in the local languages. The organization first created a paper-based test based upon field experiences in Sudan, Ghana, and Malawi, assessing 1600 enumerators in 11 languages and eventually adapted to digital version to improve the flexibility and adaptability of the test.


A pilot version was developed in the Ghanaian local language of Asante Twi with the help of language experts from universities. The digital test assigns proficiency between 1 to 5 for speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The test was validated through an independent assessment, showing that the test produces accurate results of language fluency.


Through the local language certification test, ILC Africa discovered that some technical words, such as methodology, statistical analysis, qualitative research or principal investigator amongst many others do not have direct translations in local languages. It highlighted the linguistic barriers that need to be overcome in development work especially at the local level. The local language certification test is also an opportunity for youth to demonstrate their qualifications on their CVs and also for organizations to ensure the integrity, validity, reliability, and accuracy of data collection conducted in local languages.


ILC Africa will expand the test to more local languages across the continent and seeks to partner with other like minded organizations.


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