Best Practices for Language Revitalization – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

What tribes use these Best Practices? 

Here are two exampes, the Yurok and the Lakota.


The Yurok Example 

The Yurok are the largest tribe remaining in California, with around 6,000 members living on the Klamath river in Northern California.  Their effort to maintain their language has been featured in the New York Times and on the BBC web site. A 20-year activist in the Yurok language revival movement told the Times, “The generation before me had an advisory group, and they said, ‘We want to teach the Yurok language to anybody who wants to learn it.’“

Yurok Language Teacher (from BBCNews Story)

Yurok Language Teacher (from BBCNews Story)

All of the current Yurok language teachers began learning Yurok in earnest as adults, working with fluent elder speakers as long as they could.  One teacher learned 10 new sentences a week from six different elders and made his own flashcards. He also contacted a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in Yurok.

Nine Yurok Natives are certified to teach the language in California public schools. That certification is the result of years of lobbying the State Legislature, which paid off in 2009. The Yurok seized this opportunity to grow their language education effort from a loose, local, one-to-one voluntary network into regular curriculum offerings in regional high schools as an alternative to the usual French and Spanish. They also have bilingual road signs and other public signage around their communities, seen by non-Natives as well as Natives.


The Lakota Example

The Lakota Nations of the North American Plains region are another people who took control of the revitalization process at a crucial moment, in a comprehensive way — one that is conscious of and committed to Best Practices in language revitalization.

According to the most recent US Census, the Lakota community has a large population of approximately 130,000 people located primarily in the Northern Plains, with small population clusters in the Southwest as well.  This represents a relatively large pool of potential speakers.  Currently, the speaking population numbers nearly 6,000 and the average age of speakers is around 70 years old.

Sandra Black Bear, elder speaker

Sandra Black Bear, elder speaker

However, the Lakota community is mostly young, with the majority of people under the age of 18 and a population growing at about three times the rate of non-Natives. In addition, Lakotas have a cohesive tribal education system with more than 40 schools and 20,000 students spread over nine reservations.

Young students at the 2014 Lakota Summer Institute

Students at the 2014 Lakota Summer Institute

The problem has been that 0% of children entering school are proficient – indicating that in the majority of Lakota homes, the language is neither spoken nor taught. Until recently, no schools or independent programs had shown success in teaching the language — ie., they had not produced new fluent speakers in the language.

In 2004, Lakota tribal leaders called together professional linguists and second-langauge educators to develop a strategy to achieve large-scale and broad-based proficiency to save the language.  The result is a coordinated system for language revitalization demonstrating the five Best Practices for revitalization through second-language education.

What are those Best Practices again?More in Part 3.



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