Briony Taylor

 

Recommendations for External Language Credit: Indigenous Language Programs & British Columbian Secondary Schools

The purpose of this proposal is to recommend a viable Aboriginal language revitalization program within the curriculum of British Columbian secondary schools.


First of all, I would like to begin by emphasizing the importance of language revitalization. From a global perspective, a drastic situation exists. Based on current trends of language extinction, only six hundred of the world’s languages are safe. If these languages are lost, ways of communicating will be lost forever as will the accumulated thoughts and experiences of people that have developed over lifetimes. The diversity of ways of perceiving the world, ways of speaking and ways of learning are jeopardized when language is threatened. The Linguistic Society of America believes that bilingualism may enhance certain types of intelligence as well as different ways of expressing experiences and thoughts.
In Canada, a list of the protective legislation for Aboriginal languages was compiled. Within the document, it states, “that the protection of languages is an inherent right, a treaty right, a constitutional right and an Aboriginal right.” The Supreme Court of Canada states that “Language is more than a mere means of communication, it is part and parcel of the identity and culture of the people speaking it. It is the means by which individuals understand themselves and the world around them”.

On the provincial level, in particular, I would like to refer to a past report on the recommendations of the Task Force on First Nations Education sponsored by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Recommendation 4.12 of the report states “that in partnership with First Nations communities, programs in First Nations languages, K-12, should be supported, developed and offered, as additional language, immersion or bilingual programs”. What follows is the acknowledgement that the most important element of cultural transmission is language. A viable base of speakers of these languages is essential for cultural maintenance. Later in the task force report, recommendation 6.9 states “that the federal government provide funding for programs to maintain First Nations languages…” Governments need to evolve so that they are willing to adopt policiesto facilitate language growth.

The set of attitudes surrounding the potential place of languages in schools is affected by multiple factors. A string of goals of the Aboriginal Education Enhancements Branch is “to improve school success for all Aboriginal students, to increase Aboriginal voice in the public education system, to increase knowledge of Aboriginal language, culture and history within the public school system, to increase Aboriginal communities' involvement and satisfaction with the public school system and finally, to ensure the effective use of Aboriginal education funding”. One of the classes offered in secondary schools meets some of these requirements. BC First Nations Studies 12 focuses on the following areas for students to study: the relationship between Aboriginal people and the land, contact and colonialism, resistance and leadership and finally, self-determination. While the learning objectives of the class do cover some of the goals sought by the Aboriginal Education Enhancements Branch, it lacks in its ability to increase the knowledge of Aboriginal language.

To increase this knowledge, I propose the introduction of a master-apprentice program for provincial secondary schools. Such a program would be based on the methods found in a language learning guide by Leanne Hinton entitled, How to Keep Your Language Alive. This program is referred to as the master-apprentice program. The purpose of this program is for the learner to become a speaker of the language. That the program takes place in an immersion environment is crucial. Essentially, the speaker and the learner meet together between ten to twenty hours each week. During their sessions together, they greet each other, and engage in structured and unstructured immersion. Structured immersion starts when the speaker is telling the learner how to do something but only uses the Aboriginal language. Unstructured immersion, on the other hand, usually takes the form of casual conversation.

In order to carry out a program like this, interested students would have to select a speaker who would be willing to devote substantial amounts of their time to passing on the language. Within the school setting, the teams of speakers and learners would have to be introduced to the program and then trained in it. Particular attention is given to understanding how the program works, what the ten points of language learning are, the variety of exercises and assignments that are conducive to language acquisition, how to use non-verbal communication, how to make voice recordings and finally, how to keep a log. During the course of the master-apprentice program, teams would be supervised by a language instructor at the secondary school.

There are numerous benefits when a program such as this is introduced and implemented. In an urban setting, it would be unlikely that Aboriginal language classes would be offered in secondary schools. This program allows language learning to take place on a one-to-one ratio. While a student is learning oral fluency, he or she has the opportunity to learn about culture and traditions at the same time. This format of learning is much more practical than classroom learning and is more conducive to attaining oral fluency, a fluency that will hopefully be passed down successfully to the next generation of the community. Furthermore, as an out of class program, it does not consume classroom resources – similar toa program already in place.

To propose a program like this for the public school system is not a far stretch. The reason I suggest a master-apprentice style language program for secondary school students is because I am aware that a similar program already exists. There is already an apprenticeship program in place for students who wish to learn a trade. Substitute language for a skilled trade and a similar project can be implemented. The current apprenticeship program in secondary schools is as follows: Under the Secondary School Apprenticeship, students have the opportunity to apprentice under a master. In the process, they receive academic credits and paid part-time employment. Apprentices have to find a trade that interests them as well as an employer who would be willing to train them. Currently, the provincial government offers $1000 scholarships to students upon completion of the program, in addition to some other requirements. It was announced earlier this spring that $1.4 million would be spent by the Ministry of Education to fund a trades awareness program in public schools. If such a large sum of capital can be spent on increasing awareness of trade apprenticeships, certainly a comparable amount should be available for the establishment andfunding of a language apprenticeship program.

Like the Secondary School Apprenticeship [SSA] already in place, the master-apprentice program requires minimal class space and it is feasible because the responsibility for learning is placed on the apprentice. Because it does require a lot of self-motivation and learning independent from the classroom setting, such a program would be best carried out by students in their senior years of secondary school, perhaps in the eleventh and twelfth grades. If the apprentice framework is successful in terms of the trades, then there should be no reason to stop the implementation of language learning into a similar program. Just as students receive graduation credits for apprenticeship, so too would language apprentices. These credits would be categorized as an external language. Currently, Aboriginal languages are not on the course information list as acceptable external languages. This would have to change. In addition to the acceptable languages of American Sign Language, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, and Korean, proficiency in an Aboriginal language needs to be added. The master-apprentice program would then be categorized as an external language course and credit would be received for its completion.

In addition to receiving payment and credit for participation in the language program, students could also use this program to fulfill the graduation requirement of thirty hours of work/volunteer experience. The Ministry of Education justifies their rationale behind the mandatory program, “work experience and/or volunteer experience as a graduation requirement recognizes the importance of extending education beyond the classroom into the community.” The master-apprentice language program is an excellent example of education extending into the community.

Much is required in setting up a master-apprentice program. The program in California pays their teams for the time spent working together. Under the BC apprenticeship program, students are also paid for their part-time work. Similarly, it would only be logical for teams to be paid for their language work. There are two different possible areas for funding such programs. Since the learner would be a BC secondary school student, it would make sense for the Ministry of Education to fund the initial start-up training for the program as well as a suitable hourly wage for the learner. The speaker, on the other hand, is not a secondary school student and might not be able to receive funding from the ministry. However, other provincial crown corporations exist that could cover the hourly payment given to the speaker. One such corporation would be The First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council which had previously offered its financial support to a similar program among the Malahat First Nation.

By following the already established apprenticeship framework and weaving it together with the methods of the master-apprentice program, effective language learning could occur in a practical environment. The implementation of this program within the secondary school system is dependant on approval from the Ministry of Education, and funding from both this and any other agency or level of government that would find the goals of the program worthwhile. Time is an obstacle for language revitalization, thus timely implementation of revival programs are crucial, especially since language and culture are so closely dependant on one another. The current options available to secondary school students need to be expanded to better represent the importance of the languages indigenous to British Columbia.            

 

 

Aboriginal Languages and Literacy Institute

allimail.arts.ubc.ca

604-822-4021

Buchanan C-354
1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z1