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Languages 4 - Embracing Culture in Language | The Role of Indigenous Representation in Language Revitalization

Grandfather reading to Grandson - Cross-Generational Learning

October 4, 2023

Languages 4 - Embracing Culture in Language | The Role of Indigenous Representation in Language Revitalization

When an unnamed Diné (Navajo) language teacher exclaimed, "What in the world does an "ELEPHANT" have to do with Indigenous language revitalization?!" they touched on a pervasive problem. Indigenous language education often mirrors conventional methodologies tailored for mainstream languages, leading to a disconnect between learners and their cultural context.

The Elephant in the Room

The global approach to language teaching brings diverse vocabulary, often irrelevant to the local Indigenous culture. A Diné child, surrounded by the vast landscapes of the American Southwest, might question the relevance of learning about elephants and tigers, especially when horses, wolves, and coyotes have a direct cultural and ecological resonance. It's a subtle yet profound misalignment, akin to teaching a fish about tree climbing. But the ramifications go deeper than just inefficacy. The absence of cultural context in the curriculum can be belittling, even demeaning. It signals a more significant problem: the erasure of their unique identity.

Horse in the Navajo desert

The Intertwining of Language, Culture, and Identity

Language embodies culture, reflecting a community's history, ethos, and worldview. The way we talk about our environment, the stories we tell, and the names we give to places and animals root us to our heritage. When Indigenous learners see themselves and their immediate surroundings reflected in their learning, it fosters a positive self-worth.

In 2007 the United Nations, recognizing the importance of cultural identity and its intimate ties to language and education, adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As the declaration articulates, "Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures..." Furthermore, it underscores that Indigenous communities "have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning." 1

Indeed, Representation matters not just for cultural preservation but also for cultivating a positive identity. Gilbert aptly comments, "When the current educational system ignores American Indian students' own traditional teachings nurtured in the home and within the local community, the educational system has lost a valuable educational tool to augment the existing curriculum." 2 It's a sentiment that underscores the importance of culture and language in shaping identity, community connection, and well-being.

Languages 4™ Prioritizes Representation

Understanding the need for culturally relevant teaching, Languages 4™ adopts a representative approach. With projects like Languages 4 Mohawk, the curriculum is populated with local images, locations, and elements from the community. Instead of generic characters, it showcases diverse figures that learners can relate to, promoting a sense of belonging and validation.

These tailored solutions have a profound impact. With familiar elements, learning becomes more engaging, relevant, and effective. It shifts from mere academic pursuit to an intimate journey of self-discovery and connection to one's roots.

Safeguarding the Tapestry of Culture and Language

Languages 4™ doesn't just stop at integrating local elements. Recognizing that positive identity is tied to a holistic understanding of one's culture ensures learners feel connected and represented at every stage. As learners navigate the Languages 4™ platform, they don't just learn a language; they embrace a culture, rekindling connections that have been dimmed by time and modernity.

Act Now for a Representative Revival

As we aim to actively participate in the revival of Indigenous languages, we must ensure that our methods are in tune with the hearts and minds of our learners. With Languages 4™, we offer a platform and strategies that reflect the priorities and culture of Indigenous communities.

If you're seeking a solution that respects, understands, and uplifts your community's unique linguistic and cultural identity, schedule a conversation with Languages 4™ today.


(1) United Nations. (2007). Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/drip.html

(2) Gilbert, W.S. (2011). Developing culturally based science curriculum for Native American classrooms. In J. Reyhner, W.S. Gilbert & L. Lockard (Eds.), Honoring our heritage: Culturally appropriate approaches for teaching Indigenous education (pp. 43–55). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University

Tim O'Hagan - Founder and President, Languages 4

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