An app to teach Ugandan children how to speak their mother tongue

Monday August 17 2020

For Solomon Jagwe, a Ugandan in the diaspora married to a non Ugandan and working full time, the only way for his chidren to learn their mother tongue was through his own app . PHOTO | COURTESY

Children spend most of their waking hours at school where English is the mode of communication. The stories they like on TV are all in English. Their parents (their only connection to mother tongue) arrive home late in the evening, tired and sleepy. As a result, children grow up without learning a language that is so crucial to their identity. As it turns out, this situation is a pain in most parents’ necks, except they don’t know what to do. One Ugandan in the diaspora decided to do something about it.
Solomon Jagwe had agreed with his wife that raising their children in the US should never stand in the way of exposing them to the rich heritage of his people back home. That included teaching them his mother tongue, Luganda.

Small beginnings
However, Jagwe worked a full time job as a 3D Artist and animator at a US Military defense contractor gaming studio, logging late hours. His two children, aged six and seven, were fast outgrowing the age where learning a language is easy. It was difficult for him to spend time with them. And since his wife is not Ugandan, she couldn’t help out. A solution needed to be found, and fast.
“I embarked on creating a children’s app that my wife would be able to use to expose our children to Luganda in my absence. Nkoza & Nankya was born,” Jagwe says.
The children’s app employs 3D and 2D imagery (read cartoons), music, children’s rhymes and traditional Luganda fables to teach Luganda.
“Before long, our children, Nantayi and Solomon Jr had learnt how to count in Luganda. They had also learnt the Luganda alphabet and nursery rhymes like Enjo enjovu, Nabubi and others,” he says.

Sharing is caring
Five years after the first sketch was created, what started as a small dream to help his children turned into a big solution for Jagwe’s fellow Ugandan parents both in the diaspora and in the metropolitan areas back home. Having seen how effective the app had been on his children, and knowing that many other parents had a need for it, Jagwe decided to make it available to the public.
The Nkoza & Nankya app was officially launched in the US in May 2017 at the Buganda Bumu North American Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. By April 2018, the activity on the app had picked up so much that Jagwe left his full-time job as an Art Director for a virtual reality gaming studio based in DC, to start his own art and animation Studio called Sowl Studio. He’s never looked back.
Today, three years after it’s launch, over 6,000 people have downloaded the iOS, Android and Amazon versions of the Nkoza & Nankya app. The app is free but it offers premium content for a monthly subscription fee of $6.99 (Sh25,000).

Those who don’t wish to subscribe can still unlock the premium content by purchasing coin packs within the app which they can then use to unlock the locked content.

“Our app is currently being used actively at the International School of Uganda, as part of their curriculum for early Luganda learners. We had a Skype call with their students and it was absolutely beautiful to hear the joy and excitement saying how much they enjoy the Nkoza & Nankya app. We also use it at the Luganda Academy here in the US. We have partnered with the Embassy of Uganda in DC, and are working towards introducing the app to more schools in Uganda,” Jagwe says.

Other languages
While the app is going places, it is still limited to Luganda. Jagwe is currently in the process of adding other Ugandan languages and Kiswahili due to the high demand for the service.


“The app is for every Ugandan parent, wherever they are in the world, who wishes to get their children to start learn our languages. Parents are saying they are struggling to teach native languages both in Uganda and in the diaspora. So we are in the process of including other Ugandan languages to cater for a wider clientele,” Jagwe says.

The Investment
Jagwe and his wife have so far invested over $60,000 (Sh220m) since 2012 when he created the first sketch. They have painstakingly designed the content in the app to make it fun and easy for children by using both 3D and 2D animation.

Children love animated content, cartoons and games but these are costly in terms of time and finances.

“But it’s all worth it. We gamified the lessons by adding animated songs, videos and games. Parents have sent us videos of their children dancing to the animations and singing the songs. Hearing how the Nkoza and Nankya app and series content are helping parents and children learn our native languages, especially during this lockdown, has made all the struggles worth it. Together we can build a legacy for our children so they can grow up knowing their native languages and rich cultural heritage in Uganda and abroad,” he says.

From the reviews available online, the users are generally satisfied. It has been given a stellar rating of 4.5 stars by users, which means it’s more than satisfactory.

One reviewer wrote: “Very easy to navigate. Our son is doing it all by himself. This app has made the learning of Luganda something to look forward to, not another laborious task! We love it. Best app by far.”

Another writes: “Fabulous app, have loved it since I found out about it and our children can’t get enough of it. Works perfectly well, haven’t had any problem with it.”

Just last Tuesday, the app bagged a Best Animation Award at the Revolution Me Film Festival in New York. The win was for the 3D animated short film, Enjovu, The Elephant Tail. This, on top of several other nods from global film festivals this year and in the past three years.

The content is created by a diverse team of creators and storytellers in Uganda, in the UK and in the US.