Best Practices for Language Revitalization – Conclusion

This is Part 4 of a four-part series.

Young students at Lakota Summer Institute 2014

The final two Best Practices for language revitalization are Oversight and Social Support.

Oversight

In the school classroom setting, students’ progress needs to be tracked through regular assessment tests, to provide proof to school administrators, families and community members of the language program’s success. Schools’ proven achievements in learning can be publicly recognized with awards and honors to build pride in language learning and teaching.

Other kinds of educational programs will have the freedom to invent their own tracking and recognition methods, to make saving the endangered language a vivid community activity.

Standing Rock Elementary School, Fort Yates, ND

Standing Rock Elementary School, Fort Yates, ND

Social Support

The easiest way for endangered languages with a written version to be kept alive for tribal communities by creating bilingual signage in public places – and encourage attempts to read and speak the Native words aloud!

Living speakers can give signage a boost by getting together to coin neologisms – new words to express places and objects of the modern world.  Two Lakota tribes took on neologisms in public signage in a big way a few years ago.  The new elementary school on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the new hospital for the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation were being built at about the same time, and both needed bilingual signage to tell people what rooms were “Faculty Lounge,” “Gymnasium,” “Hydrotherapy,” “Ambulance Garage,” etc. The story here has more about how the Lakota language was designed into these 21st-Century buildings.

Eagle Butte Health Center, Eagle Butte, SD

Eagle Butte Health Center, Eagle Butte, SD

Another important, personal means of Social Support for language revitalization is to be encouraging and positive when anyone tries to speak the language, such as when they sound out the words on signs.  Nobody likes to be made fun of for trying something!  Even if you don’t speak the language yourself, someone who is speaking it is not trying to be better than anybody else – they are just trying to learn.

Courtney Yellow Fat and young student, Lakota Summer Institute 2014

As a language learner, you become a teacher when you use the language among other people – just by speaking.  Just by making the language heard. So “best practices” are not something isolated to the classroom or a book. They are what you do, as you encourage the language to live.

About the Author