Previously we discussed a variety of websites available for language students, many of which are free and easily accessible on many mobile devices. In order for language students to take advantage of these resources, more content needs to be provided by fluent speakers of these languages. In the meantime, social avenues exist for students to gain exposure to their target languages and practice actually speaking them, even when they are physically isolated from fluent speakers.
In the past, communities were formed on websites such as Yahoo! Groups in order to facilitate discussion about language. One example is the Ojibwe Language Society of Miinawaa. While this group has fallen out of favor, it still boasts almost 1,200 members and has posts as recently as December 22, 2014. If language preservation is to be successful though, teachers must reach out and meet their students in their home territory. With that knowledge, Facebook Groups have proven to be successful as a discussion medium for Native American languages. Two groups that deserve special mention are Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) Word/Phrase of the Day and Ojibwe Language Fix of the Day.
These are only some of the active language groups on Facebook, and there are dozens for Ojibwe alone. Users on these groups post videos, pictures, translations, phrases, and ask for help understanding words spoken in their homes or communities. This is truly where the rubber meets the road when it comes to exposing students to Native American languages. The amount of content that has been posted to these groups is a testament to the dire need for continual exposure and feedback from fluent speakers.
It is quick and easy to create a group like this, and once an active community has been established it opens the door for other avenues of exposure like video chat.
With enough students or even just a couple of speakers, video chat using free software is the next best thing to actually sitting in front of a teacher speaking the language. Two of the best programs to accomplish this are Skype and Google Hangouts.
In the past, Skype only offered free video calls between two users, but recently the site began offering free group calls for up to 25 people at once. One person controls the call and can mute and unmute users so there are never too many voices being heard. This technology allows for amazing possibilities when it comes to language learning, including screen sharing to share videos or PowerPoint slides while students can ask questions regarding the material.
Google Hangouts is similar to Skype, but it only allows for 10 simultaneous users as a free option. More users can join the conversation with paid options. Hangouts offers additional options like recording and broadcasting the call after it’s finished, which is useful for students who weren’t able to attend the original call.
YouTube is a goldmine of language videos. Many language tutorials have been posted there, although some can be harder to find than others, as they are titled in the original language. Some users have even created playlists of curated language videos, like the Anishnabemowin playlist. With the ease of recording and publishing videos and the ubiquity of video cameras attached to smartphones, tablets and computers, the number of videos posted grows exponentially every day. If we want to reach language students where they frequent, YouTube is definitely one of the best places to make an impact.
While not exclusively categorized under technology, there are two aspects of books that should be mentioned that are technologically inclined. The first is that it is now easier than ever for people to publish their own books. Previously, authors had to find a company willing to take on the financial risk of publishing their work or the author would have to pay for the printing and binding of their book out of their own pocket. With the use of modern software it is easier than ever for authors to write and publish their works digitally. In this way we have access to more literature than ever with a prime example being Ahaw, Anishinabeem (OK, Speak Ojibwe) by B. Jeff Monague. His Ojibwe phrasebook is offered as a printed book, but can also be acquired as a Kindle eBook, and be read on any mobile device.
The second aspect of technology in books can be observed with the previously mentioned book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. His book, also offered through Kindle, has many links to his website where students can view video tutorials, additional software, and extra material not found in the book.
The use of technology along with the vast array of resources on the Internet enables current language students a variety of avenues to pursue their language. The resources mentioned in this series are simply a starting point for exploring the possibilities of language learning, even at a distance, and students and teachers have every reason to use the tools available to them to achieve fluency.
Trey Saddler is an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana. He is currently attending Salish Kootenai College in Montana and is expected to finish his Bachelor of Science in Life Science with a focus in Environmental Health in June. He is an EPA Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellow, and has interned with the EPA, NIEHS, and at the SKC Environmental Chemistry Laboratory. He studies Native American languages in his free time.