What ensures the best quality of endangered language instruction in schools?
Three things: 1) Support the teachers, 2) support the teachers, and 3) support the teachers.
You mean money?
It’s not about a paycheck – although that confers professional status and pride.
At the core of real support is a fundamental acceptance that the endangered language is going to be taught as a second language, especially if it is no longer being spoken at home to young children.
That acceptance may be a cultural stretch, especially for fluent elders, since your language is a source of pride and identity. Patience and humble persistence are other forms of support for teachers working for language revitalization. And elders must be involved, to share and preserve their understanding.
But what about money? What are we paying for?
Second-language teaching is a valued skill all over the world. It is recognized as something that requires specialized training for both classrooms and immersion environments. Teachers need this training, and they also need classroom materials designed for use with the training.
They also need intensive language study to strengthen their own fluency – because they have to stay ahead of their students!
That’s all outside the classroom. What about inside the classroom?
Schools support second-language teachers by giving them time with the students. A teacher who only gets to teach for 45 minutes two or three times a week isn’t going to be able to make the lessons stick, no matter how much training they’ve had, how fluent they are or what materials they use. Language revitalization programs may invest in “language nest” immersion preschools, but what the child picks up there will be lost without steady, daily language practice in the years that follow.
This kind of support – especially the classroom time – is in the hands of school administrators who deal with scheduling and budgets. Parents and community members can support language teachers by going to school boards and telling them why the endangered language is a worthwhile subject that deserves classroom time, good materials and fully-trained teachers.
Shouldn’t the language be taught at home as well?
Speaking the language at home is ideal!
How do I teach an endangered language at home? — More in Part 3.
The Language Conservancy provides technical and logistics assistance to indigenous tribes seeking to preserve and revitalize their traditional languages.
(c) 2014 The Language Conservancy