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Tue Nov 25 21:26:55 UTC 2003
Maintaining and Renewing Native Languages
Northern Arizona University
Educational Research Associates
This article reviews research on maintaining and renewing American
Indian languages. A rationale is given for the importance of maintaining
tribal languages in terms of Native students' cross-cultural
understanding. Then Joshua Fishman's theoretical paradigm for reversing
language shift is summarized and tribal and national language policies
are reviewed. Early childhood, elementary, secondary, and tribal college
native language efforts are described along with Navajo and Yup'ik
examples of school-based native-language maintenance/renewal efforts. Based
on the research of tribal native-language renewal efforts and current
research on second language teaching, specific suggestions are given
for maintaining and renewing native languages.
In 1992 Dr. Michael Krauss, President of the Society for the study of the
Indigenous Languages of the Americas and Director of the Alaska Native
Language Center, testified before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on
Indian Affairs. In his testimony, he estimated that in 1492 here were 300
or more native languages spoken in North America and that 190 of these 300
plus languages are still spoken or remembered by native North Americans.
However, of the 155 of these 190 languages in the United States only about
20 are still spoken by people of all ages and thus fully vital. Even these
few languages, including Navajo and Crow, are threatened as fewer and fewer
children are learning them in the home. Many non-Indians and some Indians
see no tragedy in the loss of these languages, but as this country becomes
more and more dominated by concern about crime and the breakdown of
traditional families, many Indians and some non-Indians see the
perpetuation of native languages as vital to their cultural integrity.
The reason for this is, that in addition to speech, each language carries
with it an unspoken network of cultural values. Although these values
generally operate on a subliminal level, they are, nonetheless, a major
force in the shaping of each person's self-awareness, identity, and
interpersonal relationships (Scollon & Scollon, 1981). These values are
psychological imperatives that help generate and maintain an individual's
level of comfort and self-assurance, and, consequently, success in life. In
the normal course of events these values are absorbed along with one's
mother tongue in the first years of life. For that reason, cultural values
and mother tongue are so closely intertwined in public consciousness that
they are often, but mistakenly, seen as inseparable. For the majority of
young Natives today, culture and language have, in fact, been separated. As
a result, most of these young people are trying "to walk in two worlds"
with only one language. This is a far more complex and stressful
undertaking than the "two worlds" metaphor would suggest (Henze & Vanett,
Across two cultures the preferred etiquette for behaving or communicating
in a particular situation may be starkly different. Using the same language
across the two cultures often poses a challenge to both sense and
sensitivity (Platt, 1989). Giving young Natives the opportunity to keep or
learn their tribal language offers them a strong antidote to the culture
clash many of them are experiencing but cannot verbalize. If along with the
language, they learn to recognize the hidden network of cultural values
that permeates the language, they will add to the knowledge and skills
required to "walk in two worlds." They will learn to recognize and cope
with cross-cultural values that are often at odds with each other, and they
will begin to adopt more comfortably the cultural value that is appropriate
for a particular cultural situation (Tennant, 1993).
The revival and preservation of minority languages is not a hopeless
cause. Successful efforts towards indigenous language renewal and
maintenance are to be found around the world. Examples are to be found in
the revival of Hebrew in Israel, French in Quebec, and Catalan in Spain
(Fishman, 1991). Even in the United States with its emphasis on conformity,
small groups such as the Hutterites and Hasidic Jews have been able to
maintain their languages and cultures. In this article we will bring to
bear experience from both international and local tribal efforts to
describe "what works" in language renewal efforts.
It should be noted that in seeking to preserve their cultural heritage,
tribes are not rejecting the importance of English-language instruction for
their children. Littlebear, a Northern Cheyenne advocate for bilingual
education, sees "our native languages nurturing our spirits and hearts and
the English language as sustenance for our bodies" (1990, p. 8). In
addition, the results of the latest U.S. Department of Education study of
bilingual education programs show that native-language use in schools does
not hurt children (Ramirez, 1992). Such research tends to use
English-language standardized test scores as a measure of success. If such
research also focused on objectives such as strengthening American Indian
families, there can be little doubt that bilingual programs utilizing and
developing native-language fluency produce superior results. This is
supported by the findings in the Department of Education study that parents
were most satisfied with having their students learn both English and their
home language and wanted their children to stay in bilingual programs
longer (Ramirez, 1992).
Joshua Fishman's Theoretical Paradigm
Joshua Fishman (1991), a world renown expert on sociolinguistics, sees
minority-language maintenance embedded in a more general attempt to
maintain traditional cultures. He asks minority-language activists to "view
local cultures (all local cultures, not only their own) as things of
beauty, as encapsulations of human values which deserve to be fostered and
assisted (not merely 'preserved' in a mummified sense)" (p. 33). Fishman
works from three value positions: 1) The maintenance and renewal of native
languages can be voluntary 2) "'Minority rights' need not interfere with
'majority rights,'" and 3) "Bilingualism is a benefit for all" (pp. 82-84).
Fishman postulates a continuum of eight stages of language loss with stage
eight being the closest to total extinction and stage one being the closest
to dynamic survival. Partly as a result of years of concerted U.S.
government language suppression, many American Indian tribes, such as the
Salish and Kootenai in Montana, are in Fishman's eighth stage where only a
few elders still speak the tribal languages. The languages of these tribes
are on the verge of extinction. Other tribes are in stage seven where only
adults beyond child-bearing age still speak the tribal language. In stage
six, there is still some intergenerational use of languages in the homes.
In stage five the language is still very alive and used in minority
communities, and even on a voluntary basis in schools. According to
Fishman, "Stages 8 to 5 constitute the minimum context for reviving native
languages. Language revitalization efforts at these stages can be done
inexpensively and do not need the cooperation of the dominant group.
Stages four through one deal with giving the minority language a legal
status, including minority-language use in schools, the workplace, and in
government. Efforts to bring about such legal changes can evoke reactions
from the majority population such as those of the "English-Only" movement
(Crawford, 1992). In stage four, the minority language is required in
elementary schools (here it is important to have it as a language of
instruction rather than as a second language to be learned). In stage
three, it is used among employees (but not by supervisors). In stage two,
government offices use the language. Finally in stage one, higher levels of
government use the language. Fishman shows through studies of various
minority-language efforts worldwide how successful efforts to restore
minority languages move the language from higher number stages to lower
numbered stages with the most critical move being from stage five to four.
Fishman notes how the emphasis on individual rights in modern western
democracies detracts from the recognition of minority group rights. He
The denial of cultural rights to minorities is as disruptive of the
moral fabric of mainstream society as is the denial of civil rights. Civil
rights, however, are focused on the individual, while cultural rights
must focus on ethnocultural groups. Such groups have no recognized legal
standing in many Western democracies where both establishment
capitalist thought and anti-establishment Marxist thought prophesies [sic]
the eclipse of culturally distinct formations and the arrival of a
uniformized, all-inclusive 'modern proletarian' culture. (p. 70)
He defends the need to recognize "cultural democracy" as a part of general
democracy and to see efforts to preserve and restore minority languages as
societal reform efforts that can lead to the appreciation of the beauty and
distinctiveness of other cultures as well as one's own. He also emphasizes
that efforts to restore minority languages should be "facilitating and
enabling" rather than "compulsory and punitive." Bilingualism should be
viewed as life enriching and a bridge to other cultures. Fishman's position
is echoed in smaller studies such as Colin Baker's (1988) review of
compulsory and voluntary efforts to revive Celtic languages in the British
Important factors Fishman finds in successful efforts to maintain minority
languages include the need for sacrifice, self-help, self-regulation, and
the establishment of boundaries for language use. He logically locates the
key to minority-language preservation in the intergenerational transmission
of the language in the home by families, not in government policies and
laws. This thought is reinforced by Littlebear (1990) who emphasizes the
importance of family involvement in these efforts. Fishman writes "The road
to societal death is paved by language activity that is not focused on
intergenerational continuity" (p. 91). He cautions against putting too much
effort and reliance on native-language media, schools, and governmental
efforts. Policies, such as those embodied in the Native American Language
Act of 1990, and native-language radio stations can make a friendlier
environment for minority languages, but they are no substitute for grass
roots efforts focused on use of the language in homes.
Outside of homes, minority-language use in early childhood centers, such
as the Maori and Hawaiian language nests (described later in this paper),
and in pre- and post-natal programs for young mothers is important. In the
community, minority-language use can also take place in cooperative
markets, employment centers, recreational centers, legal aid services,
credit unions, and so forth. Fishman also points out the need for teachers
who teach subject matter in the home language and who are tolerant and
accepting of different dialects. Fishman asserts "it doesn't pay to force a
written standard, much less a spoken one, on an adamantly unwilling or
seriously ailing speech community" (p. 345). Lastly, social boundaries must
be developed that give minority languages an exclusive role in traditional
family and community social activities.
Fishman's central issue of the book as we see it is the same one brought
up by Lilly Wong Fillmore in her article "When Learning a Second Language
Means Losing the First" in the September 1991 issue of Early Childhood
Research Quarterly. She expresses a deep concern that an English-language
emphasis in early childhood education will separate language-minority
children from their parents. This separation leads to family breakdown
(specifically parent-child communication problems) and identity problems
for these students as they reach their trouble-filled teenage years. That
breakdown has had disastrous consequences for American Indians who, for
example, die from alcohol related causes at a rate 4.3 times the national
average (Indian Health Service, 1990). These tragic social costs have been
recognized by Republicans and Democrats alike in the family values debate
during the 1992 presidential campaign and by all Americans in our concern
about what is happening to our nation's youth.
Tribal, National, and International Policies
In recognition of the positive values it embodies, native-language renewal
has received support through policies, legislation, and pronouncements at
the tribal, national, and international levels. In the last few years
tribal governments have been acting to protect and preserve their
languages. One of the first of these was the Northern Ute Tribe whose
Tribal Business Committee passed resolution 84-96 in 1984 declaring,
the Ute language is a living and vital language that has the ability to
match any other in the world for expressiveness and beauty. Our language is
capable of lexical expansion into modern conceptual fields such as the
field of politics, economics, mathematics and science.
Be it known that the Ute language shall be recognized as our first
language, and the English language will be recognized as our second
language. We assert that our students are fully capable of developing
fluency in our mother tongue and the foreign English language and we
further assert that a higher level of Ute mastery results in higher
levels of English skills. (Northern Ute, 1985, p. 16)
The resolution also requires Ute language instruction from preschool
through twelfth grade, encourages "pre-service training in Ute language
theory and methodology for teachers," and requires three credits of
inservice training in Ute language for teachers within one year of
employment (Northern Ute, 1985, pp. 16-18).
Another tribal language policy passed by the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council
in 1984 holds that "Our ancient language is the foundation of our cultural
and spiritual heritage" and declares that "all aspects of the educational
process shall reflect the beauty of our Yaqui language, culture and values"
(Pascua, 1984, p. 1). The same year the Navajo, living on the nation's
largest reservation, passed an education code that recognized the
importance of the Navajo language (Navajo, 1985).
Although tribal policy and support are critical factors in language
maintenance or renewal, they cannot of themselves without comprehensive
planning and broad cooperation ensure that a formal language program will
be successful. In 1974 the Coeur d'Alene tribe in Idaho commissioned the
development of a modern writing system, language course, and dictionary for
their language. These were completed the following year (Nicodemus, 1975).
Today, twenty years later, the interest in the language remains strong.
However, because there was no comprehensive program of implementation and
because there are now so few adult speakers of the language, the renewal
effort has been limited to elementary school children learning just a few
words here and there.
The Pawnee Tribe in Oklahoma developed a similar language-teaching program
in 1979 (McNiel & Tennant). Of the eleven speakers of Pawnee who
contributed to the course, only one is alive today and the tribal office
estimates that there are only five to ten speakers of the language still
living. Occasional courses in Pawnee are offered by the tribal library. The
number of attendees at the 1994 course ranged from 10-15. One participant
noted that in spite of strong motivation it is difficult to learn even
simple conversation "because there really is no one to talk to." Although
it is theoretically possible for an individual to learn a nearly extinct
language through private effort with the help of a well planned, systematic
approach (see Hinton,1990/91), the number of people with the level of
motivation and persistence needed to succeed in such an effort remains
At the national level, native-language maintenance received support from
the passage of the Native American Languages Act, Title I of Public Law
101-477, in 1990. Congress noted in this Act that "the status of the
cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States
has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the
survival of these unique cultures and languages." The Act makes it the
policy of the United States to "preserve, protect, and promote the rights
and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native
American languages" and recognized "the right of Indian tribes and other
Native American governing bodies to use the Native American languages as a
medium of instruction in all schools funded by the Secretary of the
Interior." Furthermore, the Act declares that "the right of Native
Americans to express themselves through the use of Native American
languages shall not be restricted in any public proceeding, including
publicly supported education programs."
In addition, the final report of the U.S. Secretary of Education's Indian
Nations at Risk Task Force in 1991 set as one of its ten national goals the
maintenance of native languages and cultures. The Task Force gathered
testimony at seven regional public hearings and at the annual conference of
the National Indian Education Association, made 30 school site visits, and
commissioned 21 papers from national experts on American Indian/Alaska
Native education on subjects such as current conditions, funding, dropout
prevention, curriculum, and other relevant areas of concern (see Cahape &
In the transmittal letter accompanying the Final Report, the Task Force's
co-chairs, former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and former Alaska
Commissioner of Education William G. Demmert, Jr., wrote:
The Task Force believes that a well-educated American Indian and Alaska
Native citizenry and a renewal of the language and cultural base of the
American Native community will strengthen self-determination and
economic well-being and will allow the Native community to contribute to
building a stronger nation--an America that can compete with other
nations and contribute to the world's economies and cultures. (Indian
Nations at Risk Task Force, 1991, p. iv)
The Task Force found that "schools that respect and support a student's
language and culture are significantly more successful in educating those
students" (p. 16). Overall, their final report gives strong support for
linguistically and culturally appropriate education for American Indian and
Alaska Native students and echoes the Native American Languages Act in
calling for the maintenance and renewal of native languages and cultures.
The experience Canada has had with Indian reserves, residential schools,
and assimilationist policies parallels recent U.S. experience. Public
hearings held in 1992 by the Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal
Peoples brought forth concerns similar to those of U.S. Natives. There was
a call for more aboriginal control of education; more aboriginal teachers;
more native language, culture and history in schools; and for
cross-cultural training and education programs (Royal Commission, 1992).
Worldwide, the survival of indigenous peoples and their cultures is a
resurgent and compelling political issue. The breakup of the Soviet Union
is one example of the strong claims minorities make for self-determination.
Elsewhere, Kurds, Basques, and other indigenous groups demand independence.
The continued poverty and social problems of these minority groups are
linked to their political disempowerment and minority status. Minority
children everywhere are filled with the idea through mass media and schools
that the dominant culture reflects the way things ought to be. But their
elders remind native children of the reality that they are not and can
never be white.
The United Nations recognized both the predicament and aspirations of
indigenous minorities by declaring 1993 the International Year for the
World's Indigenous People. The current policy of Indian self-determination
in the United States, while not perfect, approaches the ideal of freedom
and cultural democracy envisioned in the United Nations' Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
Making Policies Reality
The rhetoric from tribal, national, and international levels is great, but
drawing from the Irish and other international experiences, American Indian
tribal governments should be wary of tribal language requirements in
schools without first establishing local parental support for such
requirements. The grass-roots support for the Native American Languages Act
in the United States is matched by the grass-roots support of Celtic
languages in Great Britain and Ireland, but that support does not
necessarily translate into support for compulsory native-language
instruction. The Navajos ran into this problem with their 1984 policies. At
the White House Conference on Indian Education in 1992, Navajo president
Peterson Zah noted,
We took it to the Tribal Council, promulgated new rules, and announced
a new law. The wishes of the Navajo people were finally put into writing, a
statement of principle that we can all support. However, the different
kinds of schools that we had on the reservation didn't necessarily buy what
the Navajo Nation government wanted the local school districts to do
because those local districts had their allegiance to the state. They had
their allegiance to the federal government. So, we now have a situation
where we have a policy that is not in force. (1992, p. 397).
There is an urgent need for developing a comprehensive plan and broad
community support, including that of local schools, before the base of
spoken language becomes irretrievably lost. To assist in such a
comprehensive effort, Brandt and Ayoungman (1989) offer a highly detailed
but locally adaptable set of "Exercises for Language Planning" in an
Appendix to their "practical guide" for language renewal and maintenance.
The exercises include twelve activities that allow local communities to
become immersed in the language renewal process: (1) dispelling myths about
language learning and bilingualism; (2) identifying the values underlying
the language; (3) recognizing beliefs associated with language use and
bilingualism; (4) articulating the future desired by the community; (5)
setting goals based on the desired future; (6) examining current community
practices as they relate to the chosen goals; (7) establishing an
information network to promote the goals; (8) recruiting individuals and
groups to achieve the goals; (9) determining the key factors regarding
language loss, maintenance, or renewal; (10) focusing on the unique
functions of the local language; (11) developing language and educational
policies; and, finally, (12) implementing a practical, comprehensive plan.
The Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs (OBEMLA)
Roundtable on stabilizing indigenous languages that was held in November,
1994, in Flagstaff, Arizona, is a step towards helping tribes develop
comprehensive plans for tribal language maintenance and renewal. The
conference discussed rationale, policy, planning, research, community
issues, and K-Adult education.
In the following sections we outline additional approaches that experience
has shown can help turn the rhetoric of native-language renewal into actual
programs in and out of school that will impact the lives of children.
Early Childhood Programs
As Fishman (1991) indicates, everything points to the need to focus
efforts on getting parents and young children involved in native-language
renewal. The intergenerational transmission of native languages in the home
is the key to native-language survival. To the extent that there is a
genetic predisposition to language, which may well include personal or
cultural traits (shyness, for example), this predisposition can be
strengthened both pre- and post-natally, primarily by the mother talking
and singing often to the child in the native language, by exposing the
child pre- and post-natally to frequent conversations held with others in
the native language, and by participating as often as possible in community
gatherings where the child can experience ethnic activities.
Language nests can offer strong support to families in the effort to
preserve native languages. Language nests were developed by the Maori of
New Zealand to help preserve their culture and language. They are
community-based day-care centers staffed with Maori elders who speak to the
children in the Maori language. Language nests preserve the Maori language
that was dying out, provide a valuable service to working parents, and,
most importantly, strengthen the cultural values associated with the
traditional Maori extended family (Fleras, 1989).
Starting in 1982, Maori grandparents volunteered to run day-care centers
featuring an immersion program in the Maori language. With grassroots
support these "nests" expanded rapidly till in 1988 there were 521 centers
with 8,000 children, 15% of the Maoris under 5 years old. In an informal,
extended-family, childcare setting, Maori preschoolers are saturated with
Maori language and culture (Fleres, 1989). Language renewal among adults is
also being carried on in New Zealand through the use of week-long immersion
classes at Maori cultural centers (Nicholson, 1990).
With university help, language nests are also being successfully pioneered
in Hawaii with native Hawaiian children (Wilson, 1991). These programs link
together elders and children, strengthen family values, and develop
language skills. More consideration needs to be given to the strengths of
the "language nest" approach in planning United States early childhood
education programs. If we follow the advice of former secretary of
education William Bennett (1987), to teach English to language-minority
children "as quickly as possible," and by implication the culture that goes
with the English language, we will further break down the American Indian
cultures and family structures.
Elementary and Secondary Education
Schools can build on the native-language skills that native families and
language nests develop in children. An example of a school that is
maintaining an Indian language is Rock Point Community School in Arizona.
At Rock Point, reading and writing are taught first in Navajo. In
kindergarten, two-thirds of the instruction is in Navajo with the rest of
the time spent teaching students oral English. In grades 1-3, half the
instruction is in English and half in Navajo. In the upper grades about
one-fourth of the instruction is in Navajo with the rest in English. By
teaching content-area subjects in the early grades in Navajo, Rock Point
students are not held back in those subjects until they learn English. In
the secondary school both 7th and 8th-grade students have a full year of
Navajo studies in Navajo plus a quarter of Navajo writing. In grades 9-12
students have a half year of Navajo studies in Navajo plus a quarter of
Navajo writing each year (Reyhner, 1990).
Teachers at Rock Point have had to personally produce much of the material
they use to teach in Navajo. A Title VII (bilingual education) funded
Junior Research Program (JRP) in the elementary school and a Title V
(Indian education) funded Applied Literacy Program (ALP) in the secondary
school develop literacy skills in Navajo and English. Students write for
newspapers and booklets that then become reading material for other
students. In ALP students take Navajo writing, English writing, computer
skills, and performance (speech and drama). Each quarter, an award-winning,
bilingual school newspaper is produced. Hands-on instructional approaches
are used because they lend themselves to adaptation by teachers for Navajo
language instruction more readily than exclusively textbook approaches.
McLaughlin (1990) in a study of literacy on the Navajo Reservation found
that three out of four of the community members questioned, reported
reading Navajo language articles in a school newspaper. The Navajo language
is used as the language of instruction in the high-school Navajo
social-studies classes. In addition to teaching tribal history, geography,
and government, time is also spent on Navajo clanship where students learn
how they are related to other Navajos and the duties they owe to their clan
relatives. Thus, through the school's curriculum, community and family
cohesiveness is reinforced. One of the important factors in the success of
the Rock Point Community School curriculum is that students are encouraged
and required to talk and write a lot in both Navajo and English.
Besides Navajo, the only other native language that is still used
extensively over a wide area in the United States is Central Yup'ik Eskimo
in Alaska. Some 22 widely scattered villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta
are served by the Lower Kuskokwim School District with offices in the city
of Bethel. Bethel has 4000 inhabitants; the villages average 500
inhabitants. The language dominance of children entering school in these
villages ranges from Yup'ik-only to English-only, with some of the villages
in various stages of language transition.
Yup'ik is taught in all 22 village schools as well as the three schools in
Bethel. Three different programs have been developed to respond to the
children's broad-spectrum language needs. Four villages where the children
are English-dominant teach Yup'ik for one period a day (Yup'ik as a Second
Language Model). Four other villages, although Yup'ik-dominant, have
adopted an all-English curriculum with Yup'ik used for half to one period a
day (Bilingual/Bicultural Model). The remaining 14 Yup'ik-dominant villages
provide all subject-matter instruction for Grades K-2 in Yup'ik, while
English instruction increases from 30 minutes a day in kindergarten to 90
minutes a day in Grade 2. Although English becomes the main language of
instruction from Grade 3 on, instruction in Yup'ik is continued for one
period a day (Yup'ik as a First Language Model)
The Yup'ik as a First Language Model is essentially the Primary Eskimo
Program that was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early
1970s when the village schools were run by the BIA. By 1979, at the end of
a five-year study, the program evaluators concluded that "this bilingual
program has demonstrated a level of effectiveness beyond most expectations
and beyond the proven levels of achievement for the majority of bilingual
programs of its type in the country (Tennant, 1979, p. 49). Although the
program has weakened somewhat over the years owing to a high rate of
teacher turnover in rural Alaska and the lack of intensive training that is
required to maintain such a complex program, a comprehensive evaluation of
the program in 1990 concluded that "the bilingual program of the Lower
Kuskokwim School District, and its predecessor, the BIA Primary Eskimo
Program, have already made great progress toward achieving equity and
excellence in Yup'ik and English education (Henze et al., 1990, p.82).
Unfortunately, beyond the few examples given above, there is little to
give hope that American Indian communities and their languages will not
continue to lose ground as reservations become less and less isolated from
the dominant culture particularly through the introduction of television to
even the most remote areas. The Maori, Rock Point, and Yup'ik successes
indicate that the native-language-maintenance programs need to be given
more attention by American Indian tribal governments and educators as a
possible way to help implement the spirit of the Native American Languages
The tribal college movement began in 1968 with the founding of Navajo
Community College. Since then this movement has grown till in 1994 the
American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) listed 31 members.
Lionel Bordeaux, a long time tribal college president and one of the
leaders of the tribal college movement noted that "cultural preservation is
really the foundation of the tribal colleges" (1991, p. 12). Courses in
tribal languages are a mainstay of tribal college curriculums.
Recently, Sinte Gleska University and Oglala Lakota College started
four-year teacher-education programs, and now Navajo Community College and
Haskell Indian Junior College are developing four-year teacher-education
programs. Except for Haskell, an intertribal college, tribal language and
culture requirements are integral to these teacher education programs. In
contrast to the old assimilationist approaches to Indian education, tribal
colleges are formulating a multicultural/ecological educational approach.
Oglala Lakota College's "Philosophical base of the teacher education
We believe that by learning a second way of life, without forsaking
reverence due to one's primary group, personal understanding between
individuals and cross-cultural understanding between groups will be
enhanced. This approach to life needs to be integrated into all areas of
education that affect Indian students on and near the reservation.
(Oglala Lakota College, p. 1)
On the Rosebud Reservation a Tribal Education Code was enacted in 1991 to
get culturally appropriate instruction for Lakota children (Knowles, Gill,
Beauvais, & Medearis, 1992).
The Vice President of Navajo Community college told a group of teachers in
We are developing the teacher education program within the natural
education processes of the culture, and we wish to be respected as we
observe the critical issues and power dealing with this type of
development. . . .
We believe that the knowledge of Navajo culture, language and S'a' ah
Naagh'ai Bik'eh Hozh'o'on is necessary for anyone involved in the Teacher
Education Program. We are attempting to set this development
programmatically within our knowledge system so that it addresses real
issues facing real people through a living curriculum and pedagogy. . .
Our traditional cultural roots are now being nourished and nurtured
into full growth of amplifying our philosophy, S'a ah Naagh'aa'i Bik'eh
H'ozh'o'on through comprehensive curriculum and pedagogical
transformation. (Lewis, 1992, pp. 1-2)
Brandt and Ayoungman give practical advice on renewing aboriginal
languages in their 1989 special theme issue, "Language is a Gift from the
Creator," of the Canadian Journal of Native Education, which focuses on
language renewal. They warn parents and educators not to "'teach' their
children ëIndianí by giving them isolated words such as the names of foods,
colors, or numbers." Instead they recommend that family members simply talk
to their children
all the time in the language . . . using the normal strategies of
talking to children, asking them questions, telling them what to say in
natural functional situations, such as 'Ask your grandma to give you
some food,' or expanding their productions. (1989, 45)
Hinton (1990/91) emphasizes the amount of time that adults wanting to
learn their ancestral language must spend and the need adults have to
overcome inhibitions about making mistakes and playing with language. She
also emphasizes that one need not study the grammar of an Indian language
to learn it and that immersion rather translation is the best way to learn
an Indian language.
Teachers seeking ideas on how to restore native languages or to teach
English as a Second Language would do well to study Krashen and Terrell's
(1983) "Natural Approach" to language acquisition because the translation
approaches used in the past have shown little success. In addition, the
ideas in the second edition of John Oller, Jr's. Methods That Work (1993)
are excellent. Oller's edited book includes chapters by Krashen and other
leaders in the field of language education.
The "Natural Approach" incorporates language-teaching principles that have
proven successful in other methodologies as well. Lozanov's Suggestopedic
Approach to language learning, for example, has gained worldwide attention
for both its success and its novel departure from the cognitive emphasis in
most classrooms (Lozanov, 1978; Lozanov & Gateva, 1988; Stevick, 1980, pp.
229-259). The Berlitz "Method," with its demonstrated commercial success on
an international scale, is another proven approach to language teaching.
The "Method" used to teach any of the languages offered by Berlitz schools
is not published but is taught privately to the instructors who will teach
students one on one or in small groups. So effective is the Method that the
only other prerequisites to becoming a Berlitz teacher are (1) the language
to be taught must be the teacher's mother tongue, and (2) the teacher must
have completed an elementary school education in that mother tongue.
The Method is based on a cycle of statements and questions that always
rotate around three objects, statements, or situations. The real or
realistic content of the questions keeps the student(s) focused, and the
use of three distinct contexts keeps the student(s) from parroting
responses. The learning cycle begins with three statements that in the
beginning may focus on three simple, real objects: paper, pencil, book. The
questioning then rotates from negative to positive responses and then back
to statements (Pencil? No. Book? No. Paper? Yes.). In short order, the
cycle of statements and questions becomes quite complex (Is Mr. Berlitz
going to London? No. Mr. Berlitz is not going to London. Is Mr. Berlitz
going to Paris? No. Mr. Berlitz is not going to Paris. Where is Mr. Berlitz
going? Mr. Berlitz is going to Rome. . . . Is Mrs. Berlitz going to Rome?
No. . . . Is Miss Berlitz going to London? and so forth). In a Berlitz
language lesson, consequently, the teacher models the target language half
the time by asking questions and the student(s) spend the other half of the
class time answering the questions in the target language. For the first 30
lessons, students rely totally on oral instruction by modeling the
teacher's pronunciation of the target language. Although Berlitz language
classes are intense, partly because they are expensive, they teach language
well and they teach it fast. The intensity of the Berlitz Method perhaps
cannot be maintained in educational settings with large numbers of
students, but many of the valuable principles that make the Method work can
be built into any effective language-teaching program.
The use in classrooms of cooperative-learning techniques where the
students question each other is another way of increasing the amount of
time students speak the target language. In mixed classrooms where
different students are fluent in different languages, this peer tutoring
could be very effective.
Although they may motivate students differently, the Krashen, Lozanov, and
Berlitz approaches to language teaching incorporate five principles that
need to be addressed, with varying degrees of emphasis, in any
1. Putting primary emphasis on communication, not grammar 2. Using
context that is real or at least realistic 3. Processing content of
high interest to the learner 4. Adjusting the pace of instruction to
the students' progress -moving from simple to complex (generally
speaking) -emphasizing speaking over speaking correctly
-putting comprehension before completion 5. Correcting students through
Since learning styles vary across cultures and even between individuals
within those cultures, it would be simplistic to conclude that any one
method "fits all." But all three approaches mentioned above have been
proven to be widely successful in their own contexts and with their own
emphases. Consequently, familiarity with the principles that have made
these approaches successful will increase the likelihood of maintaining and
renewing native languages.
By not focusing on grammar or vocabulary, such as conjugating verbs or
memorizing the names of numbers, colors, and animals, students acquire
language skills they can use immediately. The timely, positive feedback
that students gain from early, successful use of the new language boosts
their desire to learn. The judicious teaching of grammar, however, can be
helpful. The contributors to Ronald M. Barasch and C. Vaughn James's book
Beyond the Monitor Model (1994) note, examining especially European
sources, that what is good teaching in the Natural Approach is not new with
Krashen, and they comment on what Waldemar Marton refers to as the
"anti-pedagogical" aspects of Krashen's theories. Like the Whole Language
Approach, Krashen talks more about creating an "acquisition" environment
rather than specific teaching strategies. Wilga Rivers recommends a more
"interactive approach" where, besides providing comprehensible input in a
low anxiety environment, teachers also correct grammar based on the level
of the students understanding.
As Ian Dunlop, another contributor, puts it, "explanations of grammar help
as long as those explanations are understandable, do explain and do not
confuse, and are at the linguistic level of the student" (Barasch & James,
1994, p. 217). Without that explanation there is evidence that students'
errors will "fossilize" with the result that while they will be able to get
by in the language they will never achieve near-native fluency. As stated
by Carlos Yorio, "What the immersion program evidence shows is that in the
best of all possible acquisition-oriented classroom situations,
comprehensible input and full emphasis on meaning result in fluency but not
in accuracy." (Barasch & James, 1994, p. 132). There is some evidence of
this from the Canadian French immersion classrooms.
Teresa Pica, Richard Young, and Catherine Doughty also note the importance
of interaction plus "redundancy in input" in second language instruction.
Pica notes that "a number of studies have shown that a priori adjustments
to input in the form of paraphrase and repetition of linguistic
constituents, simpler syntax, and commonly used words have a facilitating
effect on L2 comprehension of texts or lecturettes [mini-lessons], compared
to their unadjusted counterparts" (Barasch & James, 1994, p. 183). She also
states that students need more "opportunities to initiate interaction, seek
clarification [ask questions], or signal for help with comprehension"
(Barasch & James, 1994, p. 185). Peter af Trampe argues that some of
Krashen's dislike of grammars results from their written-language bias. The
last thing beginning language users can use is a complicated grammar
produced by linguists, but they can use simplified oral-language-oriented
We mentioned previously the parallels between Krashen's Natural Approach
and the Whole Language Approach to literacy. They both downplay direct
instruction in favor of providing a language rich environment that will
motivate students. While this fits in with some of the recent research in
cognitive psychology and the constructivist theory of learning, taken to
the extreme it severely limits the role of teachers. Basically, teachers
would only provide high-interest, low-anxiety, language-rich environments
for students. The more conservative approach advocated by the contributors
to Beyond the Monitor Model adds a valuable teaching function to this
Curriculum and Materials Development in the
Although the school alone cannot revive or maintain a language--that is
primarily a prerogative of the family and the speech community--the school
can be a force and a focal point for language maintenance or renewal. Since
the school teaches subject matter in a well-planned, methodical, and
regularly-scheduled way, it can strongly reinforce a community's efforts to
promote native-language use. Furthermore, when a local language is taught
alongside other formal school subjects, it takes on an importance equal to
those other subjects. This message to the students may be subliminal, but
it is, nonetheless, an important one.
For a language to be taught effectively in the school, more than a
methodology is needed. The way the language will be taught must be mapped
out concretely in a curriculum or course of study. This curriculum, in
turn, must be supported by appropriate materials. What specific curriculum
and materials evolve for a particular program depends on a number of
factors that must be reviewed, discussed and decided upon by the local
community working with principals, teachers, and bilingual aides (see
Brandt and Ayoungman's Exercises for Language Planning outlined earlier).
This process can be accelerated with the help of a facilitator who has wide
experience with many different kinds of native-language programs.
From this careful planning, an ideal language-teaching model can emerge.
This "showroom" model may never be driven off the dealer's lot, because
there always seems to be some gap between the ideal and the affordable.
Cost notwithstanding, however, it is still important to begin with the
ideal program because this will allow the planning group to prioritize the
scope of the program within whatever funding can be allotted to it. Very
often supplemental federal funds can be gotten to help establish a
language-teaching program. Here again, it is helpful for the committee to
consult with someone who knows what funds are available and how to apply
For any effort to be successful, however, it cannot depend entirely on
discretionary federal funding such as Title VII. A commitment of regular
school-budget dollars must be made to achieve program permanence. Bilingual
education, once implemented, does not need to be appreciably more expensive
than monolingual education. It does, however, require that a substantial
number of certified teachers need to be bilingual and have special training
in teaching languages.
One of the important decisions that often needs to be made in
native-language programs is whether to focus solely on speaking skills or
to include literacy. If we assume literacy to mean more than merely some
written aid to learning the language itself, we consequently assume the
need for a viable orthography, that is, a writing system designed with the
user rather than the scholar in mind and based, at least for the most part,
on the Roman alphabet that everyone learns in school. More even than a
practical orthography, literacy assumes literature. Including literacy as a
language-teaching goal, assumes a commitment to develop reading material
for children and adults in the target language. Literacy is an admirable
goal: it involves local speakers in developing written materials; it
documents for future generations the language and the knowledge the
language conveys; it provides the community with a sense of pride in their
people and their language; and, at the same time, it gives the student a
powerful language learning tool.
An example of a successfully implemented language-maintenance program can
be found on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait some 150 miles off the
west coast of Alaska, but only 40 miles from the Siberian mainland. This
large, windswept, treeless island is home to two Eskimo villages of about
600 people each: Gambell and Savoonga. Both villages have schools with
grades K-12 run by the Bering Strait School District. The dominant language
of the school-entry children in these two villages is Siberian Yupik (Note:
Central Yup'iks use an apostrophe to indicate a glottal stop in the word
"Yup'ik;" St. Lawrence Islanders do not). This is one of four Eskimo
languages in Alaska and it is spoken only on this island and on the nearby
coast of Siberia. In recent years the inhabitants of the island have begun
to call their language St. Lawrence Island Yupik rather than Siberian
Because the children's first language is Yupik, every classroom K-8 has a
Yupik-speaking aide. In addition to team teaching with the certified
teacher, there was a long tradition that the aide in each classroom would
teach 30-45 minutes a day in Yupik. Since there was no scope or sequence
for the Yupik instruction, no teacher knew what any other teacher had
taught. As a result, the children each year learned more than they ever
wanted to know about a favorite cultural topic: seals. In order to improve
the language-teaching program, the school district in 1983 sought the help
of a consultant to work with the school staff.
A needs assessment indicated that ideally the children should be taught in
Yupik for the first few years in school, while they learned English as a
second language gradually in a non-traumatic way. Ideally, they needed a
program similar to the Yup'ik as a First Language model in the
Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. With only 300 students on the island, however,
compared to 3000 in the Lower Kuskokwim School District, the ideal program
gave way to fiscal reality. Consequently, the time frame for the language
program remained the same: 30-45 minutes of instruction a day. With the
help of an initial Title VII bilingual education grant, the school district
developed a K-12 scope and sequence for the cultural content of the classes
taught in Yupik, created a Yupik reading program, consolidated existing
reading materials for the elementary level, and created three hard-cover
volumes of local history and lore in both Yupik and English for high-school
students. A current Title VII grant is allowing the local materials
development center staff to develop five full-length readers in Yupik and
English for use in grades 4-8.
This program in the school is thus helping the community to maintain the
language through a strong literacy program and helping to counteract the
ever mounting influence of English-language television in nearly every
While it is natural to go to tribal elders for help in learning and
teaching tribal languages, it is really young parents who can create the
home environment for the intergenerational transmission of tribal
languages. In addition, when young people are recruited to become actively
involved in native-language maintenance and renewal, there is an
expectation that this interest can bear fruit for another half century,
long after today's elders are gone.
Using tribal elders and other native speakers to actually teach tribal
language in schools has a history going back at least to the early
seventies. This history indicates that while these acknowledged experts can
teach language in an informal situation--at home, in early-child-care
settings, and on field trips--teaching language in a school classroom is
another thing altogether. Teaching to relatively large groups of children
in classroom settings requires knowledge of how to motivate and keep
discipline as well as the knowledge of second-language-teaching techniques
of Krashen and others discussed above. Tribal members, however, often meet
this advice with skepticism.
Among Indians there is a history of suspicion of non-Indian,
native-language efforts based on the history of native-language use by
non-Indians. Missionaries learned the language and developed writing
systems for the purpose of spreading Christianity, not preserving Indian
languages. Anthropologists and linguists studied tribal languages for
purely academic and professional reasons that had little or no benefit to
Indian people. Government officials sometimes became interested in tribal
languages so that they could be used to sell to the people unpopular
government policies such as stock reduction on the Navajo reservation in
Any outsiders seeking to offer advice or help to maintain native languages
need to be aware that their efforts will not be met uncritically. What is
needed is a partnership of what Watahomigie and Yamamoto (1987) have
described as action linguists working with curriculum developers, tribal
elders, tribal young adults, and teachers.
Native language and cultural revival will not be accomplished by tribal
officials and school administrators going to Washington to testify for
various bills. In fact, their failure to "mind the store" back home can
further discredit Indian education. What is needed is the aforementioned
partnership with curriculum and language experts to develop high quality
classroom teaching methods and materials. Otherwise, "native-language
experts" and local certified teachers who speak the language who go into
the classroom with high expectations put on them by the community will be
struggling against odds that for most will be insurmountable. The result
will be that students will learn neither native languages nor the three
If community-based, native-language, early-childhood programs can be
developed and linked to two-way or maintenance bilingual programs in public
and BIA funded schools, there is hope that American Indian families can be
strengthened and native languages can be revived and maintained while
English-language skills are developed. Indian students need an environment
both inside and outside of school where they can develop and use native and
English-language skills. The home is an obvious place to use the native
language, but some tribes have also started radio and television stations
with native-language programming. While students need environments where
they can use English in conversation, they need to be taught that it is not
necessary to give up a tribal language for English. It is not only all
right to be bilingual, but it is better than being monolingual. A shift in
language education policy over the past quarter century has helped promote
this message. The message has come at a critical juncture for the
maintenance or renewal of many American Indian and Alaska native languages.
Editor's Note: This article is an extension of a paper that was presented
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