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No Signal in Afghanistan? University’s iPad Language App Will Still Work

Screen shotU.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan frequently have trouble talking with local residents, who speak Pashto, which has 44 letters and its own unique calligraphy. Now there’s a free iPad app that provides a tutorial, and it will work even in remote areas because the entire program resides on the tablet computer.

“We assumed some users will be in the military, who will use it in areas without any data connection,” says Sukhrob Karimov, an information and communication technology specialist at Indiana University’s Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region. “So we decided to build it so all the sources are in the app. Once installed on the iPad you can use it anywhere.”

Users can watch and listen to video recordings of Pashto speakers pronouncing each letter. It also has animations of Pashto calligraphy. Users can practice by tracing the letters on the screen, using a finger as a stylus. Difficulty writing with a finger has been a continuing criticism of the iPad, but Mr. Karimov says his group has tested the app with students, who all seemed to find it easy to use.

Building all of this into the program ballooned it up to 30 megabytes, huge for an app. “So it might take several seconds to load, but that is the only drawback,” Mr. Karimov says.

Speaking Pashto seems to ease dealing with people in villages, U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dustin L. Carroll, of the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, recently told the Idaho State Journal. “When you use their language, it shows you accept them,” Mr. Carroll told the publication. He and his unit have been teaching themselves Pashto through other methods, since the iPad app is not yet available.

The tutorial is not just for the military, but also for students on the go “who might want to use it on a plane, or underground train, where there is no signal,” Mr. Karimov says.

The app is being reviewed by Apple and if approved will be available through the company’s apps store this month. The Indiana developers are preparing a version for the BlackBerry tablet and plan one for Android-based tablets as well.

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