Submissions:2016/Creating flashcards in Native American languages using images from Wikimedia Commons

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Community; Outreach; Academic Engagement
Academic Peer Review option
Type of submission
Slowking4 & Mystery guest
E-mail address
slowking4 at gmail
Cherokee language student and Wikipedian

Mobile apps in Native American languages have become quite popular, but not all tribal groups have a well-funded language revitalization organization that can create an app for their language.

Using open source software and images from Wikimedia Commons, it is possible to create your own flashcard deck for learning a Native American language.

In this presentation, we will demonstrate some sample decks created with Anki, a spaced repetition flashcard deck, in the Salish and Cherokee languages, with images and audio.

Spaced repetition can be a very effective way to learn vocabulary, because its algorithms bring words up for review just in time so that you don't forget them. For a language like Salish, with very challenging consonant sounds, the flashcards have helped intermediate students get a solid foundation of vocabulary and pronunciation, so that they are prepared to benefit from their interactions with fluent elders.

Many indigenous groups and Native American tribes have only a few fluent elders now. As Darrel Kipp, of the Blackfoot language immersion school said, "What are you waiting for? Don’t ask permission to save your language. Just do it."

There are many different ways to learn a language on your own. Because there is no organized national effort in the US to create language learning curricula for Native American languages, it is up to all of us to pitch in if we want to see this happen. Some groups are quite protective of their languages, and many only want to share a few sample words, or not have their language on the computer at all; while others are interested in having as many people as possible learn.

Creating materials that help linguists, students, and people working with tribal members learn basic vocabulary helps jumpstart the process of attaining fluency. We don't all have time to take a year off, become a Wikipedian in Residence, and partner with a language immersion school to create a new Wikipedia in an endangered language. But it only takes one interested person with some spare time in the evenings to create an attractive topical flashcard deck that helps others start their language journey.

Does DIY language learning on the Internet work? Actually, yes. I heard one story about a little girl from the city who got excited about learning a tribal language on the Internet as part of her school project. She talked her parents into taking a trip that summer, showed up at a cafe on the reservation, and started chatting with the local folks using basic phrases in their language, like greetings, the weather, and asking about food. There are fewer than fifty fluent speakers left in that language, so the folks in the cafe were delighted to see a new little girl starting to talk.

We hope that when you see how easy it is to create your own instructional materials with Anki, you will consider taking these lists of words and images, reaching out to the tribal and indigenous groups in your area, and creating decks for another language or two!

If there is interest, we can do an additional session explaining the flashcards in Spanish for Spanish-speaking attendees.

Length of presentation
30 min.
Special schedule requests
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  1. Minh Nguyễn 💬 10:59, 1 September 2016 (EDT)
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