New movies bolster Native language

Seven films allow students to hear, see and interact in Tlingit

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sealaska Heritage Institute has created seven interactive Tlingit-language movies with Flash Media software to help engage students at a critical time for the Native culture, officials said.

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"It's kind of taking this old knowledge and using the modern technology to pass it on," said Daphne Wright, a Tlingit-language teacher for the Hoonah School District.

"I have used that very interactive program from fourth grade up to high school with a real positive response."

SHI President Rosita Worl said using the contemporary technology is a great way to grab the attention of the younger generation of Natives at a time when many of the fluent speaking elders are passing away.

"We're developing good, positive identities where children feel good about themselves being Native," she said.

The interactive movies allow students to navigate through a variety of scenarios while learning new vocabulary that can be read and listened to. Fluent Tlingit speaker John Marks provides audio that goes along with the movies.

A quiz is available at the end of each movie, which can be retaken as many times as one likes. The movies were created in-house as a pilot program by SHI and are available on its Web site.

Hans Chester, a Glacier Valley Elementary School teacher and noted Tlingit speaker, said the movies are another great way to engage children in their culture.

"It helps out with small groups," he said. "I can put kids into small groups, and I let them choose which movie they want to look at and then rotate those groups."

Chester said he is grateful for another tool as both a language learner and an educator.

"It gives kids another experience using Tlingit language, and I think that is one of the most beneficial things," he said. "It gives them the language in another context, so it's going to reach more kids - especially since it's on the computer."

Worl said the idea for the movies came from a desire from the Native community to have more language resources.

"We've been teaching immersion programs, language programs, so we had a sense of the things that people need," she said. "So we thought we would try this media."

SHI is dedicated to using the technology available to keep up with the changing world and help inspire more people to learn the language, Worl said.

"I think it's one of the reasons why Southeast Native cultures have remained so vibrant, because one of our cultural attributions is adaptation," she said.

Images from two of the movies have been printed on T-shirts and will be sold with a CD-ROM copy of the corresponding movie during Celebration from May 31 through June 3.

Worl said these movies are a big step in the right direction at a crucial time to recruit new Tlingit speakers.

"I think we're going to have greater success," she said. "I mean we still have a ways to go ... but I think we have this glimmer of hope that we're on the right track in terms of our language revitalization."

Wright said she hopes the younger generation will be inspired by these movies to better understand the language.

"They are the hope, and what we've got to do is grow more of them," she said.

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