Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. Today we are focusing today on teaching indigenous languages. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency. The United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It’s the perfect opportunity to look at teaching indigenous languages around the world, plus best practices to overcome common hurdles. Then we speak with Quechua instructor Américo Mendoza-Mori, who describes the history of Quechua education, and how it is being taught today.
As Kai Risdoll says, let’s do the numbers:
7000 languages spoken worldwide
370 million indigenous people in the world living in 90 different countries
5000 different indigenous cultures
2680 languages in danger
Languages sustains generations of cultural heritage. Language carries valuable scientific, medical, and botanical knowledge. And yet, experts believe only half of the 7,000 languages spoken today will survive to the end of the 21st century. While it is true that languages have been disappearing for thousands of years, many indigenous peoples have lost their languages because of cultural and political oppression.
What qualifies as an indigenous language? Indigenous languages are spoken by ethnic groups and communities of first peoples, aboriginal peoples or native peoples. Let’s briefly look at where indigenous languages are spoken, and then examine how they’re being taught in the classroom.
Indigenous Languages in Asia
Languages are not distributed uniformly around the world. For example, only 230 languages are spoken in Europe, while 2197 are spoken in Asia.
Indigenous Languages in Africa
Africa is a linguistically diverse continent. People speak close to 2,000 different languages. As far as naming them indigenous languages: because the dawn of human migration began in Africa, indigenous identity here relates more to a set of characteristics, and not with certain people being the “first peoples in the land.” For example, there are several populations of nomadic peoples that claim indigenous status based on their marginalization, such as the Tuareg of the Sahara region. Up to 300 languages in Africa have less than 10,000 speakers, which puts them on the UN’s endangered list.
I have a really fascinating article on all of the languages in Africa and where they are spoken with charts and maps, that I will put in the show notes.
Despite the rich diversity of languages, in African educational settings, English, French, German and Portuguese are the major languages used.
Indigenous Languages in the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas are broadly recognized as being those whose ancestors inhabited the region before the arrival of European colonizers and settlers.
Thousands of languages were spoken in the Americas in Pre-Columbian time. However, Native Americans and First Nations peoples were forced to abandon their languages and assimilate during hundreds of years of oppression- and now most of the surviving indigenous languages of the Americas are critically endangered.
Mexico has 68 indigenous languages, Guatemala has 24, and Canada has more than 70.
The four most widely spoken indigenous languages in the Americas are: Quechua (9 million speakers) and Aymara (2.2 million speakers), Guarani (5 million speakers) and Nahuatl (Aztec; 1.5 million). I have a really cool display of Spanish words that have origins in Quechua, Nahuatl, and Taíno in my Teachers Pay Teachers store- just look up Kid World Citizen.
Indigenous Languages in Oceania and Australia
120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are still spoken, and 90 per cent are endangered. In the tiny islands of Papua New Guinea, there are around 832 languages!
International Year of the Indigenous Language
In recent decades, the revitalization of indigenous languages has been identified as a human right. In fact, like I mentioned in the introduction, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) to raise awareness of the crucial role languages play in people’s daily lives.
The aim is to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation. There are 3 main goals: support, access, and promotion.
- The first goal, is the creation of more materials, content, and services, using the languages (Support)
- The second goal is to preserving indigenous languages by creating access to education, information and knowledge about indigenous languages (Access)
- And finally, the last goal is to promote the knowledge areas and values of indigenous peoples and cultures (Promotion).
Ojibwe Revitalization Project
Language revitalization programs are a powerful strategy in culture education, and in teaching indigenous languages.
Mary Hermes writes about her experiences in starting a K-12 Ojibwe immersion school in Wisconsin- I will link her paper in the show notes. They determined the mission of the school: to create fluent speakers, intergenerational relationships, and environmental awareness. They hoped to ground their children in their identity as Ojibwe, encourage them to love learning, and be capable of finding solutions for our rapidly changing planet.
The Challenges of Teching Indigenous Languages
Starting the school meant creating a curriculum with nothing but a dictionary, a few grammar books, and a few elders. This lack of published resources and materials is very common in teaching indigenous languages.
Another challenge might be the distance between communities that speak the language. For example, the Ojibwe people are divided into 18 sovereign nations in both the US and Canada, each with their own government and identity. Finding teachers can be a challenge because they need to be skilled in both the language (preferably with a high level of proficiency) and the pedagogy. In some cases, there are very low numbers of elders who are fluent in the language, and the reservations might be 1000 miles apart.
Best Practices and Best Activities for Teaching Indigenous Languages without Textbooks
In order for the language classes to be successful Hermes describes critical measures to overcome obstacles:
First, there is a critical mass of teachers needed to teach, create curriculum, and support parent learning. A teacher education program is needed to create proficient speakers and train teachers.
Ojibwe and many indigenous languages are traditionally oral languages. Hermes writes that literacy teaching materials are nonexistent, and it was difficult to find children’s literature in Ojibwe. The children learned Ojibwe through oral traditions and storytelling.
In this school, TPR- Total Physical Response- worked well. The classes were taught at around 90% in the target language. Error correction is low, and students are made to feel comfortable to speak without worrying about grammar. Teachers introduced vocabulary through comprehensible input, starting with a traditional oral teaching by a classroom elder. They used many hands-on activities, with the elder giving scaffolding for meaning. Students then were guided to practice the target language.
Although there is a lack of written resources for teaching indigenous languages, there are many activities that can be done in class without a textbook. Here are 15 activities language teachers can do with their classes when they have no materials to rely on. I am including lots of links to further explain these, in the show notes.
- Simon Says
- Bingo (in any language)
- 20 Questions
- Co-Creating Stories/Story-Asking from TPRS, which John Bracey describes in his episode on building community
- Role Plays (in any language)
- Using Music in Class, which Elisabeth Alvarado explains in her episode
- Movie Talks (using movies or video clips with no words that the teacher can describe using comprehensible input)
- Card Talk, which John Bracey described in his episode on building community
- Write, Draw, Pass
- Describe and Draw/Find the Differences
- Circumlocution activities (in any language)
- Guess Games (in any language)
- Using Photos and Videos in Class, which Sarah Breckley describes in her episode
- Listen and Draw
- Running Dictation
If you are interested in learning more, I have also linked to an incredible book- that is actually a downloadable pdf- called Teaching Indigenous Languages. The 25 papers collected in this book represent the thoughts and experiences of indigenous language activists from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand, and are grouped in six categories: tribal and school roles, teaching students, teacher education, curriculum and materials development, language attitudes and promotion, and maintaining and renewing indigenous languages. It is a wealth of information, and I’m so happy that it is available online.
And now, we get to speak with our fabulous guest.
An Interview with Professor Mendoza-Mori
Américo Mendoza–Mori teaches Quechua and Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania where he designed the Quechua Language Program. His research on Andean Culture Quechua language and cultural policies has been featured at major institutions such as the United Nations and the national media. Prof. Mendoza-Mori has collaborated actively with academic and community-based organizations in Peru Bolivia and the United States.
1) Americo, I love learning about my guests’ language journeys. What languages do you speak, and how did you learn them?
2) And now, you are teaching Quechua. What is the profile of your students? Who are in your classes?
3) Let’s talk about the history of Quechua education- both in the Andes and abroad. (I will pause to let you speak, and then follow up with next question)
4) Traditionally, how has Quechua been taught, and with what materials?
5) I understand that you are incorporating communicative competence. Are you creating your lessons or using a published curriculum?
6) What are your favorite activities to use to teach your students Quechua?
Liberato Kani, Quechua hip hop artist:
7) Where can listeners find you if they’d like to ask some follow up questions?
Works Cited and Additional Resources
Hermes, M. (2007). Moving Toward the Language: Reflections on Teaching in an Indigenous-Immersion School. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(3), 54-71.
Reyhner, Jon, Ed. (1997). “Teaching Indigenous Languages. Selected Papers from the Annual Symposium on Stabilizing Indigenous Languages.” (4th, Flagstaff, Arizona, May 1-3, 1997).
Endangered Languages Project: Google’s interactive site, to catalog and raise awareness about the world’s endangered languages.
I hope that you have a better understanding of the trials and effective practices used in teaching indigenous languages.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Also, I love reading the reviews at the itunes store. Every time we get a review, Language Latte will come up higher in the search for more teachers. Finally, if you have more questions, or if you have great ideas that work in the classroom, we talk about language teaching 24/7, in our Language Latte facebook group.
I love to chat about questions or hear feedback you have about this episode, and to gather your ideas for future shows. Tell us what you’re doing in your language classroom!
To never miss an episode, subscribe on itunes, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Language Latte is made possible by OneWorldTrek.com: language and cultural immersion travel for teachers in Mexico. It was so nice to meet you all. I look forward to chatting next time, and hopefully collaborating in the future! Until then, ciao!