What can I do to help revitalize an endangered language?
Even one person making the effort to learn and use an endangered language gives that language a better chance of survival.
If you are not a speaker and want to learn, you can become an active self-learner by using quality language materials. Using Lakota as an example, the New Lakota Dictionary, the online Lakota Language Forum, or the “Lakota for Beginners” Facebook page are rich tools for self-study in Lakota. Materials and web sites are now emerging for Crow, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara as well. Most tribes try to have some kind of language preservation and education program.
If you know of other people in your area who want to learn, create a study group.
Find a Native speaker who would be willing to help you in your learning – whether in person, by phone or online!
Invest time every day towards study. Bring strong commitment, dedication and discipline to the process, because language learning is not a short-term task.
But I make so many mistakes! Maybe I should quit.
Stay positive! Be kind to yourself, and to anyone else making the effort to learn. It is discouraging and counter-productive when parents make fun of their children’s effort to learn the language, or if they are critical of the teacher’s efforts in school.
If you are a fluent speaker, you can help by speaking the endangered language to everyone who is willing to learn — even if they don’t understand everything you say at first.
The most helpful approach is encouragement. Correct a learner’s errors in a positive and non-confrontational way. Errors are a necessary part of learning a language and all learners make mistakes.
English translations and information about word origins can be very helpful, but try to keep most of your time with other learners focused on speaking and practicing the language.
Is there a method or a tool that will help me learn a language quickly?
Whatever language you want to learn, it is always a long-term task. If someone offers you a product claiming that you can learn quickly and easily with it, they are not being sincere with you. You have to motivate yourself by making the learning experience interesting and fun.
That motivation is also called passion.
If you have passion for learning — you will learn, no matter what. If you do not have passion — you will not learn, no matter what.
Passion for learning a language is not a momentary decision. Passion does not use the term “someday.” Passion is the bedrock desire that will not be denied.
Even with passion, there is no magical method to learning a second language through self-study. There is no shortcut. And there is no wizardly teacher to give you the answers!
Starting today — with the help of a speaker or a dictionary — you can learn three words. It doesn’t matter which ones – pick the three you want to speak today. Tomorrow, practice those three and learn two more. Day after day, two more words every day. By next summer, you can enjoy speaking your language with an elder or another committed learner.
So start today!
The Language Conservancy provides technical and logistics assistance to indigenous tribes seeking to preserve and revitalize their traditional languages.
(c) 2014 The Language Conservancy