First Voices Kids is a website that lets children play games featuring their Indigenous language. There are 50 Indigenous languages featured on this website! Many of the activities are focused around learning basic vocabulary (e.g.: learning vocabulary while colouring pictures). While it is admirable that this site features 50 languages, it is still at the beginning stages of what can be accomplished with technology. The connection to my research is that I wish to show how technology can be used to support language learning beyond the basics featured here.
The First Peoples’ Cultural Council website is an amazing resource for information on Indigenous languages and language revitalization. There is a ton of information and resources available here. Whether you plan to teach an indigenous language or just incorporate some First Nations culture into the classroom, this website is a great place to start. You can also read a status report on First Nations’ languages in B.C.
You will also find information on a number of language programs run by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. They run language & culture camps as well as offer a mentorship program where an Indigenous person can apprentice to a fluent speaker for a year and complete 300 hours of language immersion. There are many great resources on successful language learning on this website, including:
- B.C.’s Master-Apprentice Language Program Handbook
- Culture Camps Immersion Handbook
- Language and Culture Immersion Programs Handbook
What drew me to this site (and its connection to my research) is the Language Toolkit. Here I found a lot of information on Indigenous language revitalization. I think any technological solution applied to saving Indigenous languages should start here. Language revitalization is about more than just dictionary apps.
With Indigenous orthographies, you need special fonts. Many Indigenous fonts can be found on the LanguageGeek website. Once you’ve installed these fonts, any webpage that is written in that Indigenous language will be correctly displayed using that language’s orthography. These fonts are a necessity for developing Indigenous language resources online. It is important to note that these are Unicode fonts. While all modern browsers will support these fonts, not every text editor will. Fortunately, Microsoft Word does support Unicode. That means that you can use Word to write in an Indigenous language once you’ve installed these fonts. Here’s a support page on using Unicode fonts.
I’ve been thinking about my research topic and I think I’m far more intrigued by First Nations language revitalization. I think this is a natural outgrowth of my previous research interest in Indigenous ways of knowing. I’m interested in how technology is being used to revitalize First Nations languages. Language and culture are intertwined and the way that we come to know the world is through language. Therefore language plays a big role in the development of a culture’s epistemology. Language helps define a culture’s way of knowing.
To that end, I’ve discovered some fascinating iOS apps to support First Nations language revitalization. Most of the apps take the form of dictionaries with words and phrases from an Indigenous language accompanied by audio recordings, images and sometimes video. Most of the apps use the English alphabet instead of that language’s orthography. Here are links to many of the apps I discovered:
A Cree dictionary that features the ability to translate between the English alphabet and the Cree syllabary.
Another dictionary app that features audio recordings and images.
FirstVoices Chat app
I thought this app was awesome. It features keyboards for over 100 Indigenous languages! It is a texting app designed to make it easier for Indigenous peoples to use custom keyboards for their language on Facebook and Google chats. You don’t need to login or create an account to use this app. You can skip past the login screen and play with all the various keyboards.
I found many of these apps a little confusing. There was little to no introduction with these apps. I would have liked a pronunciation guide and a little guidance in speaking the language. For example, in the Nisga’a app, there are three words for ‘uncle’ with two of them being identical. It would have been nice to understand the difference between them.
While these apps are all very well done for a first attempt, I fear that many of them are no longer in development as many were released in 2012 and no updates have come out since. Many were programmed by the same developer and a list of 13 First Nations language apps can be found here.