It was the realisation that her mother tongue, Venda, was limited to being spoken at home only that sparked video editor and graphic designer Mukundi Lambani to create an education app that helps teach South African languages.
Ambani Africa App covers six local languages. It started as a free gaming app for foundation-phase learners to learn African languages but has evolved in ways that Lambani could not have imagined.
“Like many people who have moved to cities, I found that English had led to infrequent use of Venda, my home language. Opportunities to speak my mother tongue were restricted to conversations with my grandparents and parents and limited to home visits. I found myself feeling isolated and distanced from my family and community,” she said.
Lambani said following talks with her peers, who were starting their own families, she learnt that they too worried about their children growing up not knowing their home language.
“Speaking only English and becoming separated from their home languages and cultures. They also felt guilty as they did not have the time or resources to help their kids,” she said.
Lambani, who has a master’s degree in creative media leadership, said from awareness about the problem to action, she developed a small advertisement to test the market demand for basic language development. This led to conversations with potential users and then building processes that would attract users.
“The people I work with now found me during this process. My interest then was in augmented reality. Fusing this with technology to solve the problem became our common cause,” said Lambani.
Apart from the games aspect, Lambani said she noticed that Ambani Africa had become the “go-to” app for many South Africans living abroad.
“As the app and games were created with foundation-level learners in mind, we are finding that first-time language learners at universities are also using the app. Older and even retired people who have relocated and now want to interact with their new community members are regular users,” said Lambani.
As far afield as Australia, people were using the app to keep their children in touch with their distant homeland and their mother tongues. Others who had left South Africa and grown into adulthood in foreign climes were using Ambani Africa to re-establish their connections with Africa.
The app won the 2021 MTN Business App of the Year Awards, bringing its founder R1 million and new business opportunities.
“Very soon, we will be offering both a free service comprising games and vocabulary free and a premium service,” she says. ”This has been made possible by winning the MTN Business App of the Year award, which has made it possible to move forward faster than we would otherwise have been able to do so,” said Lambani.