Learn the language by living it, being at the beach, being in the big house, being with the elderly, grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts
During a trip to the beach, Sarah Child watched Earth awaken a long-forgotten word in her mother tongue.
When the baby and her mother, her first language is Kwakala but they attended an Indian daily school where the children were beaten for speaking the language, on a walk on the beach a while ago, the baby’s mother released the words of the people on the beach using a word the baby had never heard before.
“We started talking about it and she said, ‘Dear, I could hear my father’s voice in my head. I could hear my father saying those exact words to me. Look at all the people on the beach,'” said Child, whose traditional name is Tukwamaogoa.
Child, a professor of Aboriginal education on the campus of North Island College in Port Hardy, is leading a language revitalization research project for restoring Koakala through land-based learning, which is highlighted in a recent video series on innovation by Mitacs, a nonprofit An organization that promotes growth and innovation in Canada.
The child’s mother was a mentor to her work on language revitalization, suggesting, along with other elders, that Kwakala—who spoke on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island and the nearby coast of the mainland—be taught the same way they had been taught when they were children. The idea helped Child realize that classroom learning alone would not produce fluent speakers and a new approach was needed.
“I learned the language by living it, being on the beach, being in a big house, having old people and grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts,” Child said.
This is an experience the child tries to replicate with current language learners, as he offers Kwak’wala immersion activities in youth camps that aim to help them connect with the traditional land.
In the end, you want to take the youngsters in a canoe to visit the sites of the former villages, where they can do the activities their ancestors did, all while immersing themselves in the Koakala.
A child’s research project, Project Sanyakola, is also exploring the use of artificial intelligence and speech-to-text technology to stimulate language. For seniors who are physically unable to get out to the ground, where they may remember forgotten words, VR technology may be able to “decode” this language, she said.
Caroline Running Wolf, Mitacs intern on the project, is working on augmented reality capabilities to engage language learners, no matter where they are.
It might be a game. It might be a canoe trip. “You apply your language skills in the context of language and have fun while learning the language,” said Jerry Wolf, a doctoral student in the UBC interdisciplinary graduate program and a member of Apsalooke nation in Montana.