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How we preserve, teach, learn, save languages at Tribalingual

20 Mar 2017

Tribalingual’s teaching methodology

Traditionally, the preservation of endangered languages has implied the compilation and documentation of as many linguistic evidences as possible, as a way to capture the essence of the languages and keep them, somehow, safe and sound, away from ups and downs and, above all, from its total extinction. This method has proven to be useful, and nowadays we can access samples of many languages that are not used anymore but were, at one point, saved from oblivion. However, if we preserve languages only in this way, we will miss the chance of allowing them to keep on being alive, evolving and adapting to the changes taking places in the communities of speakers; we will just keep them as static objects, rare samples of ancient cultures we can contemplate and admire, but nothing else. If we limit ourselves to just collect endangered languages that way, we will, somehow, surrender to their inevitable vanishment, accepting that they will never become usable languages again.

So how can we combine both of these aspects, on the one hand preserving these languages but also strengthening them? Would it be possible to keep these languages safe and, at the same time, encourage their evolution and adaptation to the current world that is becoming more and more global? At Tribalingual we know that by teaching languages in danger, we are capturing them as active communicative tools, and not just as cultural rarities, and that this can help them survive. Languages are living, changing beings: their use, even if it is limited and hesitant, would make them grow, evolve and become able to name new concepts and realities. And that is the only way a language has to keep on being useful for communication.

We must not overlook the fact that endangered languages are a privileged way to access a culture, a way of living, but, what is more important, a community of speakers that may not be in the spotlight and, thanks to the teaching, becomes visible for the learner. The fastest way to understand the way a community conceives the world is by understanding and learning the words they use to name it, and that is eventually beneficial both for the community and for the code itself.

Basing our work on content-based language acquisition approaches, we conceive the languages we teach as the best doorway to access different facets of life, such as food, traditional costumes, festivals. That is why our courses revolve around a set of cultural elements that may change depending on the language, but are always closely related to the reality of the different communities of speakers. Each week is focused on one of those cultural elements, and every learning step leads the student towards the acquisition of a communicative skill related to them. Courses are adapted to the particular features of each language, aiming to make the learning process meaningful and in accordance with the cultural particularities lying behind the languages.

The pattern we try to follow for the acquisition of every communicative skill begins with a comprehension phase in which the learner starts to become familiar with a new set of elements, directly due to the introductions by our teachers or other kinds of input. After that, we try to raise the learner’s awareness, but not only at a linguistic level, since this would just imply the awareness and assimilation of a grammatical structure, or a vocabulary list. In addition to this, we aim to raise their awareness of the cultural undertones behind the language they are trying to learn. The final step would be the production, which will allow the learner to integrate and use the contents taught autonomously.

And this summarizes quite well what we intend to do with our endangered languages: by teaching we will contribute to their preservation, but really, it is the students that will finally save them from extinction.