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Language Revitalization Strategies

On this page you will find Language Revitalization Strategies being used around the world. See our Language Programs page for information on the strategies we are currently funding and supporting.

Mentor-Apprentice

The Mentor-Apprentice Program (MAP) was first developed in California specifically for Native American languages, but the program can be used to learn any language. It was developed on the basis of a suggestion by Julian Lang, a Karuk speaker, and initially created by Leanne Hinton, Nancy Richardson, Mary Bates Abbott and others (Hinton 2001). For more information on the program in California, see the website for the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival: www.aicls.org

This is a one-on-one language immersion program. A "mentor" (a fluent speaker of a language) is paired with an "apprentice" (learner). The mentor and apprentice spend 300 hours per year together doing everyday activities using the language at all times. In this program, learners become more fluent, which is especially valuable for languages where only a couple of fluent speakers are left. The program is based on the concept that people learn a language best by being immersed in it for significant amounts of time, without translation to English. 

Note: The Master-Apprentice Program has been re-named the Mentor-Apprentice Program. While this method of language learning is still known internationally as 'Master-Apprentice', the term 'Mentor' more closely reflects the mentorship role of the fluent speaker in the First Peoples' Cultural Council's Mentor-Apprentice Program. The name change does not indicate any changes to the program itself.

An Exploration of the Effects of Mentor-Apprentice Programs on Mentors' and Apprentices' Wellbeing
Jenni, Anisman, McIvor & Jacobs (2017)
The NEȾOLṈEW̱ "one mind, one people" research project explores the experiences of adults learning their Indigenous languages using the Mentor-Apprentice method. These experiences are linked to the important relationship between Indigenous language revitalization and health and wellbeing.
 
Ten Points for Successful Language Learning
About the California Master-Apprentice Model
Danny Ammon's Hupa Language Web Page

Immersion programming

Immersion programming includes pre-school programs (language nests / daycares / Head Start programs) and school programs (kindergarten through grade twelve) where instruction is carried out in a First Nations / Aboriginal language, for at least fifteen hours per week. Young children are the best language learners, so immersion schooling is the best way to jump-start the production of a new generation of fluent speakers.

Immersion schools provide sufficient exposure to the First Nations / Aboriginal language to produce fluent speakers, and they provide a venue for using the language in real communication. The presence of the language is so strong that children tend to use it with each other outside the classroom too.

When a First Nations / Aboriginal language becomes the language of instruction, it often must be developed to accommodate the needs of the education system. Vocabulary for math, science, and even just objects in the classroom may have to be developed, along with discourse styles such as essay-writing. This will expand and perhaps change the language. However, the language community can complement this by working to bring aspects of traditional culture into the classroom to increase students’ opportunities to use traditional vocabulary.

The immersion classroom is the most efficient place to teach a language, but no classroom program is sufficient in itself. Maori and Hawaiian immersion schools have been highly successful because they developed out of community-driven language revitalization programs which included other components. It is essential that families play an active role in supporting immersion students and encouraging First Nations / Aboriginal language use in the home. Successful immersion programs also usually have a family component in which parents study the language in evening classes (usually once a week) and volunteer in immersion classrooms.

Bringing the language back as the first language of the home is the ultimate goal of language revitalization. No school can make that happen - only families can - but an immersion school can provide a new generation with the fluency to make that transition possible.

Other options for immersion programming may include after-school programs combining language and recreation, and intensive summer immersion programs. However, language learning in these types of programs must be reinforced during the school year and in the home to have a lasting effect.

Examples of Immersion Programs/Methods:
Chief Atahm School
Lingít Language Immersion Program
Mohawk Language Immersion Program
Kohanga Reo: Maori Language Nests
Hawaiian Language Nest Movement
Hawaiian Language Immersion School Program
Total Physical Response

Current Immersion Teaching Approaches
chuutsqa Layla Rorick, an Indigenous scholar from Hesquiaht First Nation, compiled a list of current immersion teaching approaches used in B.C. for Indigenous languages. References are provided for each approach for more information.

Traditional and Cultural Programming

This language strategy takes language learners outside of the classroom setting and puts language programming into everyday life situations as elders, students, and instructors take part in traditional and cultural activities together. Language camps are also a way of implementing traditional and cultural programming.

Keres language planners in Pueblo de Cochiti, New Mexico, decided to base their language programs around their community’s traditional ceremonial events. This prepares learners to better understand and participate in these events, and gives them opportunities to participate in real, meaningful communication. During the times of year when there are no ceremonial events, learners focus on activities such as pottery, beadwork, and sewing, or participate in field trips to cultural sites, led by fluent speakers. A six-week language summer-school is held in Pueblo de Cochiti, combining classroom instruction with hands-on projects, traditional games and traditional food preparation.

The Keres community has also made an effort to revive traditional community practices which bring several generations together, such as visiting and community cleanup projects. This creates a natural environment in which the Keres language can flourish. (Pecos and Blum-Martinez, in Hinton and Hale 2001, pp. 75-82)

In BC, the FPCC recently supported projects including:

  • basket weaving and carving classes in which a First Nations language is spoken at all times
  • production of how-to booklets for various cultural and traditional activities, in a First Nations language
  • connecting cultural activities with the use of First Nations language through harvesting, preparing, and preserving fish, cedar bark and herbs, and learning about traditional regalia, drums and rattles, and feast protocols
  • learning traditional songs
  • a traditional feast conducted in a First Nations language: students wrote invitations in their language to invite community members, and demonstrated their language skills by speaking at the feast

Community Resource Training

This language strategy involves providing language education and training to build language proficiency and teaching skills. It might take the form of helping language teachers to become more fluent in a First Nations / Aboriginal language, or of teaching fluent speakers about language-teaching methods. Both these approaches lead towards the goal of providing fluent language teachers who are well trained in language-teaching methodology.

Fluent speakers involved in language education often acquire training in several different ways. Much of their training may be done on the job by trained teachers and other school staff. Consultants may come to the school to give in-service training, or community members may attend training workshops or courses, usually in the summer and outside the community. Ideally, these workshops or courses will give credit towards an eventual degree. Training community members in language-teaching skills will provide potential staff people for the future, as well as generating interest and respect from established teachers and program administrators.

Community Resource Training may also include teaching community members about linguistics, language learning, and reading and writing their language. For example, the FPCC recently supported an opportunity for elders to learn to transcribe their language by taking two-hour classes twice per week. Another language group had identified that very few of their members were able to write their language, which made it difficult for them to participate in language projects. The FPCC’s support helped them to address this challenge by bringing in a consultant who had helped develop their writing system, to teach the written language to members. Half-day classes were held twice a week.

Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization
An innovative program that strengthens participants’ understanding of the dynamics of language loss and recovery along with their ability to work in culturally appropriate ways on Aboriginal language revitalization initiatives. The new Certificate in Aboriginal Language Revitalization is a partnership program of the En’owkin Centre in Penticton, BC and the Department of Linguistics and the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Victoria.

Community Collaboration

Community Collaboration focuses on sharing information, materials, resources and best practices among First Nations / Aboriginal language communities. It should include collaborative efforts that focus on language revitalization as the priority, such as collaborative workshops, language committees, and networking. Different communities and groups can also coordinate their efforts through language planning. This ensures that communities make a united effort towards language revitalization.

The FPCC recently supported two First Nations language education societies in Community Collaboration projects:

One society collaborated with other organizations to update their goals and confirm commitments to revitalizing their language and culture. The society coordinated a Language Summit for their nation and communities, where they conducted a language survey and shared language materials which had been developed previously. Community members attended a strategic planning session for establishing a long-term Language Advisory Committee. The society also hosted a Summer’s End Feast and Gathering to give finalized language materials back to the communities, and to celebrate their successes.

The second society met with elders and fluent speakers from several communities to determine the critical aspects of their language to be included in an Integrated Resource Package for use in both the public school system and band-run schools. The elders also consulted on protocol around the use of resource materials. The meetings took place in each community.

The FPCC also supported a project to combine community collaboration and documentation. Community Gatherings were held in schools and community halls to document and gather information in the language on preparing plants and traditional medicines, how to properly respect the land, animals, and plants, and what the grandparent and co-parenting roles were in bringing up a child in the old days. The documentation was carried out through recording the sessions on digital video and mini-disks, and in field notes. Eight monthly group sessions were held, with fifteen fluent speakers from the surrounding community participating and providing information. The primary goal was to involve the fluent speakers in working with students from the schools. This gave the students and semi-fluent speakers the opportunity to hear conversational language being spoken. The children got the benefit of furthering their language skills and the project helped to improve the community and public's understanding and appreciation of the language.

Community Research and Planning

Community research and planning consists of establishing realistic goals and finding the most effective methods and strategies of reaching those goals. This may include capacity-building efforts that focus on language sustainability and revitalization approaches, determining the linguistic situation of the community, and gathering other language resources. Research and planning might also involve conducting surveys, questionnaires or community assessments, and preparing short- or long-term plans or strategies.

Language planning is essential for good revitalization programs, and it is most effective if community participation is included every step of the way. When a community takes on its own language research and planning, it ensures that it will stay in charge of its own language policy, rather than allowing outside governments or public schools to determine the future of the language. Language planning is also helpful for coordinating language revitalization efforts by different people and groups.

Your language planning goals will depend on the situation your language finds itself in. Consider the questions on our How to Begin a Language Revitalization Initiative page to help determine your community’s language situation. You might be developing long-term goals for language maintenance and revitalization, planning how your language will be taught and who the learners will be, or even developing the language itself, through the creation of new vocabulary to fit modern communication needs.

Language research and planning is an ongoing process. As plans are implemented, it will be found that some work well and some do not, and new ideas to plan for will be presented. Please refer to our Stages of Language Planning page for further details.

Members of the Karuk tribe of northern California formed a Language Restoration Committee in 1988, and began a planning process in 1989. They began with an assessment of Karuk language vitality and reasons for its decline. The committee came up with five general proposals for language revitalization:

  • recording the elders
  • developing new fluent speakers over the long term
  • educating the community about language and cultural revitalization
  • involving the community in designing and evaluating the language revitalization program
  • promoting community participation in activities where the language could be used

Members of the committee identified needed resources for training and learned appropriate methodologies for language teaching. Their long-term goal is to eventually restore Karuk as a language of everyday communication.

In BC, the FPCC recently funded a community to develop a Needs Assessment to determine the current status of their language, the number of fluent speakers, and level of fluency, and to determine the resources available locally, provincially, and federally to support language revitalization projects. Staff were trained in interviewing and communication skills and interviewed approximately 300 band members regarding levels of fluency and interest in language revitalization. The information gathered will be used to strategically plan future language projects and develop short- and long-term goals. 

Documentation

The main purpose of this language strategy is to preserve a First Nations / Aboriginal language through recording, transcribing, and/or archiving it. Documentation may take the form of audio and/or visual recordings, or written transcription.

Documentation is of key importance for endangered languages. It can be done by language communities themselves, or by linguists or ethnographers. In many communities, archives of language documentation are being developed for preservation and for general access.

If possible, both audiovisual and written documentation should be used, as each type of documentation serves certain functions best. The most valuable documentation of all is audiovisual documentation with an accompanying written transcript!

As endangered languages lose speakers, they also lose much of the knowledge that their traditional culture has accumulated. Documentation can help preserve stories, songs, history, prayers, ceremonies, and traditional cultural practices, as well as the unique and wonderful words, sounds, meanings, sentence structures, and discourse patterns of First Nations / Aboriginal languages. For critically endangered languages, written and audiovisual documentation may be the primary surviving resource from which teachers and language learners draw. Therefore, the most thorough possible documentation of the last fluent speakers will be a critical resource for future language learners. (No language has ever been documented in its entirety; this would be impossible as human beings are always creating new words and phrases.)

It can be very helpful for a language revitalization program to have the help of linguists to document their language. This can be done without any financial cost to the community by a linguist doing a research project, or if the community members prefer to have complete control over the documentation prepared, they can hire a linguist as a consultant. In either case, the community should make the decisions about what the linguist will study.

Many recent documentation projects supported by the FPCC have focussed on documenting elders’ traditional stories and teachings, and developing print, audio, video, or CD-ROM curriculum based on them. One group videotaped elders telling ten ancient stories of their traditional territories. A language specialist then prepared transcripts of the videos and digitized them to develop an advanced language curriculum on CD-ROM. Another group recorded a story about traditional weaving. The story was transcribed in the language's standard alphabet as well as the International Phonetic Alphabet, with an accompanyng English translation and grammatical analysis. This detailed documentation was then used to produce both a print storybook and an interactive CD-ROM version with detailed grammar notes.

Curriculum Development

This language strategy includes the development, expansion or enhancement of curriculum for teaching a First Nations / Aboriginal language. A curriculum is a set of lessons or tools used to simplify or facilitate language instruction, and may include language exercises, games, drills, flash cards, CD-ROMs, audio cassettes, videos, teaching manuals, books, etc.

The Hawaiian language revitalization program has two offices producing curriculum. The print media office produces books (both original and in translation), matching cards, and posters, as well as materials for parents to use in establishing Hawaiian in the home, such as Hawaiian-language labels for household items, and cards on how to answer the phone in Hawaiian. A second office focusses on other media, including videos of traditional activities, animated traditional stories, and documentaries. The Hale Kuamo‘o Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo also supports curriculum development for Hawaiian-language schools.

In BC, FPCC supported a school to produce twelve comprehensive theme-based language curricula and accompanying teaching materials. The ultimate goal is to use these documents to apply to the Provincial Ministry of Education for recognition of the curriculum as a locally developed language option for elementary students. Another language authority adapted a series of resources (including tapes, CDs, and phrasebooks) to target adult language learners. They developed ten in-depth language learning modules on everyday vocabulary and dialogues, and distributed audio and print copies to their community.

Orthography Development

This language strategy includes the design, development, expansion or enhancement of an alphabet / writing system that will be accepted and used by a First Nations / Aboriginal language community.

Most B.C. First Nations' language communities have chosen to develop writing systems, but communities elsewhere, such as the Pueblo de Cochiti in New Mexico, have consciously decided not to write their language at all.

A writing system can build pride among language community members, allow for written documentation of the language, and be put to practical use in everyday life for anything from newspapers to shopping lists.

However, Elders and other language community members often express concern that a person whose teachings are written down may lose control over who has access to those teachings. Written documentation also has limits, and should not be considered a replacement for active language teaching and revitalization.

Assuming a community wants a writing system, there are many things to be considered in choosing an appropriate one.

An interesting example of different choices in orthography development is that of Hul’q’umi’num’ and Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, two sister dialects of a Salish language of southwestern B.C.

The Quw’utsun’ Hul’q’umi’num’ of Vancouver Island have chosen a practical alphabet which uses only letters found on an English keyboard, plus the apostrophe. This ensures that their language can be written, typed, and used in email with ease.

In contrast, the speakers of Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, whose traditional territory occupied what is now much of Greater Vancouver, have chosen a linguistic alphabet which emphasizes the distinctness of their language's sounds. These two alphabets look very different, but both represent the sounds of the language accurately and systematically.

Orthography development can be a long-term process, as orthographies are revised - or whole new ones created - as language communities learn more about their languages. New technology is also rapidly being developed to accommodate First Nations orthographies in print and in computer fonts and keyboards.

The FPCC has recently funded a language group to hire a consultant to explore the possibility of integrating a syllabic writing system into their curriculum for grades 1-8. The consultant will travel to the group’s eight communities and discuss with elders and teachers which writing systems they use extensively, and prepare a report. A list of common words and phrases will be provided to the communities, written in the syllabary with accompanying phonetics and translations, and a primer in syllabics will be developed for the earlier grades.

Orthography Development and Unicode
Mohawk Language Standardisation Project

Dictionary Development

Dictionary Development includes the creation, expansion or enhancement of a language dictionary in either print or digital format. A dictionary should use a standardized writing system and include items such as grammar, meanings, pronunciation, example sentences, and cultural context.

Dictionary Development projects recently supported by the FPCC include both print dictionaries and digital dictionaries. One group is developing a multimedia dictionary to be distributed on CD and eventually made available online. The project will convert and update a two-volume out-of-print dictionary into a more widely accessible digital format, incorporating sound, images, and video.

Another group has published a print dictionary to fit the learning needs of intermediate level language learners. Research for the dictionary’s content was conducted with fluent speakers, with a particular focus on identifying words that may not have been previously recorded in writing. A third group held a series of workshops to plan and produce a pocket reference dictionary of common words and phrases relevant to their culture as well as to everyday life. The pocket dictionaries are user-friendly for both learners and language instructors.

More examples of Dictionary Development:
Sm?algya?x Online Dictionary
Enhancing Language Material Availability Using Computers

FirstVoices Archiving and Online Language Tools

FirstVoices is a suite of web-based tools and services designed to support Aboriginal people engaged in language archiving, language teaching & culture revitalization. The FirstVoices Language Archive contains thousands of text entries in many diverse Aboriginal writing systems, enhanced with sounds, pictures and videos. A companion set of interactive online games is designed to present the archived FirstVoices language data in creative learning activities. Some language archives at FirstVoices are publicly accessible, while others are password protected at the request of the language community.

The FirstVoices online language archive allows First Nations / Aboriginal language communities to archive language text, sound, pictures and video at FirstVoices.ca for use in ready-made FirstVoices online language teaching activities. For more information about the tools available at FirstVoices please visit our FirstVoices Overview page
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