Apps Help Keep Canadian Native Languages Alive

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In an attempt to keep some of Canada’s most endangered native languages alive, advocates are turning to Apple, according to Working in conjunction with First Nation tribes and the First Peoples Cultural Foundation, a group of developers called FirstVoices has just released apps for the Sencoten and Halq’emeylem languages on the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

Sencoten is spoken by the Saanich people of Vancouver Island. The language is in dire straits; at this time, only about 10 people can speak it fluently.  Halq’emeylem, which is spoken by a group of related tribes in Vancouver’s Fraser Valley, has about 225 speakers according to Ethnologue. However, according to Wikipedia in 2000 it was estimated that less than a dozen were actually fluent.

FirstVoices coordinator Peter Brand told that the apps are intended to help engage young people:

“Young people today are distracted by a lot of technology. They want to text, be on the web and play games. And so we knew that, if we had any hope of keeping the language in front of them, it had to be presented in these ways.”

One cool thing about the apps is that they allow students to create personalized language lessons by uploading their own pictures of objects and people. For example, they could take a picture of their own home and use it to create a digital flashcard for the word “home” in Sencoten or  Halq’emeylem.

The apps aren’t just for kids, though. Brand also suggested they might be helpful for people doing business in the areas where these languages are spoken, saying “It’s something a business person or a politician could carry into a remote First Nations community and could bone up on a few words or greetings as a courtesy.”