Posts tagged ‘amharic’

Sending unicode SMS

Following a few comments regarding being unable to send SMSs in Amharic with the Ge’ez keyboard installed I thought I’d have a better look into this. Also we’re looking to involve the volunteer community health workers (VCHWs) in our maternal care project and they are likley to need any text messages to be Tigrinyan or Amharic rather than English.

It seems that this isn’t only an issue with Amharic, others have had issues sending ‘ñ’ or accented characters using Android, so I can pretty much rule out that this is an issue with the Ge’ez keyboard.

Much like debugging language/font issues with database driven websites, with Unicode SMSs there are a number of places where a problem can prevent the message being encoded correctly – both of the phone handsets need to have the right font installed and be capable of sending unicode SMS, plus both the network operators need to have their networks configured correctly to send unicode text messages. There’s little we can probably do if network operators aren’t set up to send/receive unicode SMSs and from what I’ve read (e.g. here, here and here) most issues seem to be with US mobile operators.

Using my Spanish sim card (on an HTC Hero with the Ge’ez keyboard installed) I was able to send and receive messages in Amharic with my UK sim card:

My colleague Araya has also been testing sending unicode SMSs in Ethiopia, between an HTC hero phone and one of the (Ethiopian assembled) Tana mobiles – and this has been working fine.

So the main issue that we’ve had so far is with sending between some phones in the US – for some reason one phone will receive unicode SMS fine, but is unable to send – I’m guessing this has something to do with the the network operator settings rather than the phones themselves.

For reference:
GSM alphabet – which should work on all operators

Installing Ge’ez Virtual Keyboard on Android Devices

Instructions for installing a Ge’ez Virtual Keyboard on Android:

  1. Root your device – exactly how this is done will depend on your device and you’ll need to look up on Google how to do this – note that rooting is not the same as unlocking your phone, rooting means you get administrative privileges to update system files, such as the font files we’ll update below.
  2. Download the files DroidSans.ttf and RootExplorer-v2.15.apk and copy these onto the phone’s SD card (or equivalent)
  3. Install and run the RootExplorer application and go to the sdcard folder
  4. In rootexplorer, find the DroidSans.ttf file and copy it
  5. Go to the /system/fonts folder and push the button marked “mount R/W”, the button will the change to be marked “mount R/O”
  6. Paste the DroidSans.ttf file into this folder – replacing the existing DroidSans.ttf file. Leave all the other font files as they are. It’s probably a good idea to make a backup of the original DroidSans.ttf file first, before you overwrite it. Just rename the original file to (something like) DroidSans.ttf.bak.
  7. Now restart the phone and the new font will be installed
  8. Now to install the keyboard, download the keyboard apk file
  9. Copy this to your phones SD card and install the application
  10. You should now be able to switch between the standard and Ge’ez keyboards. You may need to enable the keyboard by going to: Settings -> Language & Keyboard then select check the box to enable the new keyboard
  11. To find out how to switch between keyboards, watch our video:

We have tested this installation procedure on a few different phone models, though obviously we can’t cover every possible phone type and can’t guarantee it will work for every device. If you have any problems/issues then please post a comment. We’d also be very happy to hear that it did work for you!

Instructions for installing and using Ge’ez Virtual Keyboard

Update (12 Oct 2011); This instructions have now been deprecated, to install the keyboard on your Android phone please visit:

Here is a short video of how to switch between virtual keyboards and how to use the keyboard:

Please let me know if you have any feedback/questions.

Ge’ez Virtual Keyboard for Android

Update (12 Oct 2011): For instructions on how to install the keyboard on your phone please visit:

Virtual Keyboard demo

Over the past few weeks, a group of graduate students at Alcalá University have been creating a virtual keyboard for Android to allow the input of Ge’ez script. This will allow anyone using Android smartphones or tablets to input Amharic and Tigrinya in their native script. We’ll be trialling use of this keyboard in our mHealth projects.

As the script contains over 200 characters they can’t all be displayed on the keyboard, so tapping the root consonant character will allow users to cycle through the 7 consonant+vowel combinations to enter a particular character, much like using a numeric keypad to enter Latin script characters. We’re also working on a version where the possible combinations appear in a small pop-up window when the root consonant is pressed.

The installation isn’t yet as simple as we’d like because the Ge’ez font isn’t default on Android, so the devices need to be rooted and the system font installed before the keyboard will work correctly. We’re currently putting together some full instructions and video and I’ll post up a link when these are ready. If anyone wants to try it out now, please contact me, we can provide a ROM with the font and application pre-installed.

More photos of the keyboard in action.

Learning Languages

Realising the other day that I don’t even know what Amharic or Tigrinya sound like when spoken I’ve now found a few learn Amharic videos on YouTube… the one below gives some basic phrases to use whilst shopping or eating out:

Though not sure I’ll ever be able to pronounce ‘… ligezaw ifeligalehugn’ (meaning ‘I would like to buy…’)!

The LOJSociety has posted up several more Amharic instruction videos which I’ll start to try and learn.

Unfortunately I’ve not found any videos for learning Tigrinya, though I did find out that Tigrinya and Amharic do use the same script/alphabet (Ge’ez) – but unsure yet if that actually makes things any easier or not!

If anyone has any pointers to videos of how to learn Tigrinya, then please pass them on.

Excuse my language…

Turns out that my Amharic phrasebook may be of less use than I first thought – I’ve now found out that in the Tigray province (Mekelle is the capital city of Tigray) it’s actually Tigrinya that’s spoken! The script looks quite similar to Amharic, but I’m not sure if that’s where the similarity ends… guess I’ll find out soon enough!

This weekend I’ve met 3 more people who have visited Ethiopia, mainly on tours of the ‘historical circuit’ (the towns and churches around northern Ethiopia), so has been great to hear that they all had an excellent time.

I’ve also been finding out more about the IT infrastructure in Ethiopia, emails from other volunteers currently working there have explained that generally the PCs being used are relatively recent and have Windows (XP or Vista) installed – although they may not always be genuine copies, which then causes problems with essential security updates not getting installed – perpetuating virus issues.  However, the networking might be lacking (esp. compared to what I’m used to a the OU), i.e. few servers and no firewalls.

I’m also already thinking about what I need to take with me, what I’ve got left to buy , whether it’ll all fit in my rucsac and whether I’ll still be able to lift the rucsac once packed!

“Please don’t hit the horse so much”

… is one of the phrases in my new Amharic phrasebook that hopefully I won’t have any need for whilst I’m away. Hopefully it shouldn’t be too hard for me to pick up some useful phrases, though I think it’ll be harder to get to grips with the Ethiopian alphabet (syllabary)… 33 basic characters, with extra strokes depending on which of the 7 vowels follows, so by my maths that’s 231 characters. Wikipedia has a table showing them, well, I assume it does, my browser only displays ‘?’ for each one – seems a font needs to be installed to display.

In terms of other progress… this evening I had a photographer from the local paper (Northampton Chronicle and Echo) come to take a few pics of me in my VSO t-shirt, for an article that should be in the paper in the next few days. This came about as a result of VSO writing a press release (see below) for me and sending to the local paper – hopefully it might encourage a few people to have a look at my blog and make a donation.

Local man heads to Ethiopia to share IT Skills

Alex Little, 34, of Northampton is about to head off to Ethiopia to volunteer with international development agency VSO. The organisation, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, sends skilled and experienced professionals like Alex to help in countries where their skills are most needed.

Alex first heard about VSO through some friends who had volunteered and were hugely enthusiastic about their experiences. It wasn’t until he did some voluntary environmental conservation work in Romania last year that he decided to apply. “There were two people from the US Peace Corps coordinating the work there for two years,” says Alex, “it was their work that really inspired me to apply.”

The placement will run at Mekelle University in northern Ethiopia for a year initially, with the option to stay on for another year, either in Mekelle or another similar placement in Ethiopia. Alex will be working as an IT advisor and trainer in the computing faculty of the university, and he is relishing the chance to use his skills to help others, “I will be helping to train teachers and trainee teachers in various aspects of IT, but also helping to maintain and improve their IT infrastructure. This fits well with my current job in the UK where I work for the IT team in a faculty at the Open University.”

It’s an exciting time for the 34 year old who has always wanted to spend time living abroad, not just as a traveller, but as someone with the opportunity to experience a different way of life. “I’m most looking forward to living and working in a completely different environment and experiencing their culture and way of life,” says Alex.

Volunteering for Alex seems to run in the family: “All my friends and family have been very supportive, my brother is currently doing voluntary work in the Philippines, and my parents (both now retired) are looking forward to having an adventurous holiday when they visit!”

Though it’s not without apprehension that he Alex heads into his new role. “As with any new job,” says Alex “I’ve thought about how I will I fit in, whether or not I’ll get by with the language and how easy it will be to make new friends.” Luckily for him, he has a strong network of friends and family to support him whilst he is away, “hopefully some will make the trip to come and visit me. I’ll miss cups of tea, cheese and Yorkshire puddings. I certainly won’t be missing the daily commute down the M1 though!”

Alex is also keeping a blog at: and a justgiving page at: where he is raising money to help support the work that VSO does and to ensure volunteers like Alex can continue to do so.

VSO is an international development charity, which works through volunteers. Using the skills and experience of volunteers it helps tackle poverty in nearly 34 of the world’s poorest countries. Currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary, VSO is now the largest organisation of its kind in the world and has 1,500 volunteers working overseas at any one time.

VSO is currently looking for new volunteers. For recruitment information and details on how to support fundraising initiatives, phone VSO on 020 8780 7500 or email: or visit

Slow but sure preparation!

It’s now about 3 months before I head off to Ethiopia and everything is slowly progressing. Today I had my final rabies jab, so I’m finally all sorted out with my inoculations (at last!). I had last Friday off work as I had a bunch of property management agents come round to look at the house, ready for me to let it out. I’d already seen a few, but now I’ve seen 9, so think that should be enough to decide between them. Their pricing (monthly management percentage) and fees are all broadly similar, so think I’ll basically have to go with the people I feel most comfortable with. I’ve now got a shortlist of three, which I need to ask more detailed questions of. I excluded the other mainly due to a variety of reasons, some seemed more concerned with making sure I was insured properly (and selling me the relevant insurance obviously!), rather than getting the right tenant. So shall be making decision soon.

I’ve been getting a few emails from other volunteers I was on the Preparing to Volunteer course with, as all their placement details have started to come through now- I think I was quite unusual in that my placement was sorted out very early on. Quite a range of countries… from Mongolia to Vanuatu, but, by coincidence a couple who were on the course are going to be in the same town (Mekelle) that I’m off to!!

My Amharic phrasebook arrived to day, so I shall start trying to learn a bit, but without any CD to give me the right pronunciation, I could get it all very wrong! Sure I’ll pick bits up once I get there…