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Scholarship Holders from Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Carry Out Computer Science Research

Professor Martha Yifiru Tachbelie and her husband, Professor Solomon Teferra Abate from Ethiopia are guests of the Faculty of Mathematics/Computer Science of the University of Bremen. The scientists were each awarded a Georg Forster Research Scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

The Ethiopians will spend one and a half years in Bremen. In their field “Multilingual Speech Recognition”, they collect data in three African languages and develop fitting algorithms. They deal with acoustic models that can be used electronically. Their host, Tanja Schultz, Professor for Cognitive Systems, is a pioneer in this field. She researches human-centered technologies and applications based upon bio signals, such the recording, recognition and interpretation of language. Both Ethiopians specifically chose her. “We already knew Tanja Schultz from a workshop in Grenoble and have read several of her articles”, explained Solomon Teferra Abate.

Analysis of 21 Languages in the Inventory

It is an honor for the Bremen computer scientist that both researchers came to Bremen in order to work with her. “I already have 21 languages in the global phoneme inventory”, she states. Artificial intelligence plays a role as the research team is developing self-learning systems. This is done in three stages. “A speech signal is made into a textual representation using speech recognition and then it is made audible once again”, said Tanja Schultz.

Three African Languages Will be Added

As there are around 7,000 languages in the world, the team still has a lot of work to do in order to collect enough data. “We will need the next 50 years”, the Bremen professor joked. More than 80 languages are spoken in the home country of Martha Yifiru Tachbelie und Solomon Teferra Abate. Most people use Amharic, Omoro and Tigrinya. They will analyze data from these languages and include them in the “speech processing”.

From Addis Ababa to the Weser

The guests from the East African country are happy to be in Bremen. They already had some experience of living in Germany, as both were situated for a few years in Hamburg until 2010 in order to complete their PhD programs. The family moved with both of their children, who are 14 and six years old, from Addis Ababa to the Weser. “Our daughter is going to Gymnasium Horn school because she can do the French baccalauréat there”, explained Martha Tachbelie. The Gerog Forster scholarship holders are looking forward to their work.


Martha Yifiru Tachbelie completed her degree in information science at the Addis Ababa University (AAU). She then moved to Germany for her PhD. Under the instruction of Professor Wolfgang Menzel, she completed her PhD in the area of speech modelling at the University of Hamburg in 2010. From March 2010 onwards, she was employed as a guest scientist by the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Grenoble and investigated the application of various acoustic units for Amharic speech recognition as a postdoc researcher. She returned to Ethiopia in 2012 and joined the AAU as an assistant professor. Alongside her work in teaching and research, she was the head of the School of Information Science at AAU for three years.

Solomon Teferra Abate completed his degree in computer science at the Addis Ababa University (AAU), where he worked in various administrative positions in teaching, research and administration from 1993 to 2001. After completing a six-month long German course, from 2002 to 2005 Solomon Teferra Abate completed a PhD in automatic speech recognition under the instruction of Wolfgang Menzel at the University of Hamburg. He began to carry out research and publish papers as a guest scientist at the same university from 2007 onwards, after a brief period of childcare. Much like his wife, he worked as a postdoc in Professor Laurent Besacier’s team at Laboratoire d'Informatique de Grenoble from January 2010. He worked on speech processing in this time. Two years later, Solomon Teferra Abate returned to Ethiopia and worked at AAU in the areas of teaching, research and administration (including management of the School of Information Science), until he received the Georg Forster scholarship for experience researchers.


Prof. Dr. Tanja Schultz
Cognitive Systems Lab (CSL)
Faculty of Mathematics/Computer Science
University of Bremen
Phone: +49-421-218-64270



two women and a man sitting on a table
The guests with the host: (from the left) Prof. Martha Yifiru Tachbelie, Prof. Tanja Schultz and Prof. Solomon Teferra Abate.