A response to Ivan Star Comes Out
by Denny Gayton
Immersion is the only hope for our language. We must make use of it before even that opportunity slips through our fingers. That is where our language stands; it is not firmly gripped in our arms and we do not have a strong grasp on it. Our language is slipping through our fingers. And each of us contributes.
Immersion hardly has a place on any reservation, it has even less of an infrastructure, and it has an embarrassingly small employable applicant pool to draw from. This is aside from the nearly non-existent educational lesson plans written in our language. The language however is already institutionalized in our school systems across perhaps each of our reservations.
People do not have an appropriate frame of reference when evaluating language classes, even if we restrict our discussion to high school level courses. When Ivan wrote that we have not produced any speakers, I think that is a comment or observation that our high school language teaching has merited. I do think that people need a fixed point from which they can get their footing.
When people finish three or four units of instruction in a foreign language – Spanish, etc. – people expect them to be able to produce language; speech is expected. These units can be comparable to a year of high school or a semester of university instruction. It is never expected that a junior in high school with three high school years of German instruction can effectively eavesdrop on one of your local Mennonite families when they stroll into Walmart. There is a simple reason for this: a student of such an education received German language instruction for an hour a day, totaling five hours a week.
In order to yield the highest results from language courses, academic standards must be met. How many hours a week does your local school provide to Native North American language instruction? It is common for local schools here to provide 30 minutes per week per grade. What do language teachers teach – that is to say curriculum: colors, numbers, & animals are routinely taught from K-12. How is language teacher performance evaluated? This is difficult do if your local language teacher has no written lesson plans or if administration regularly asks the language teacher to be a substitute gym teacher or study hall sentry.
The language is already in our English-speaking schools. Let’s make use of it. All that is necessary is to force the schools to treat it like any other subject taught in the school: meeting time and place that is consistent with any other school subject; language curriculum must first be established which teaches children how to talk and joke with one another (nobody can communicate anything knowing only colors, numbers & animals) – a language curriculum that can be independently evaluated for; your language teacher is your language teacher, not a fill-in teacher for other job positions; your language teacher must also be held up to the standards which all other teachers are charged with – prepared, recorded (written, audio, video) lesson plans.
I’ve had a great time learning how to talk Indian. In my experience, there has been no greater satisfaction than making a person who grew up talking Indian bust out laughing during a situation or event when they should have been able to keep their composure.