Juneau Tlingit institute expands to Ketchikan, Sitka

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002

It's the first year for Sealaska's Tlingit immersion retreat, but the fourth for the annual summer Tlingit institute.

The Sealaska Kusteeyi Institute teaches Tlingit-language students and their teachers. Shirley Kendall came down from Anchorage for the two-week program in Juneau. As a Tlingit-language teacher, she found the teaching-methods class useful.

"There's a large variety of games they can play using Tlingit phrases," she said. "That's something we're always looking for, is not only being able to teach the language but have fun doing it."

The main teaching technique used and promoted at the institute is Total Physical Response. The teacher gives instructions in Tlingit only, modeling the action until the students understand well enough to follow directions. It's a little like a game of Simon Says, but all in Tlingit.

"They can see how to do it without any English getting in the way," said Roy Iutzi-Mitchell, sociolinguist for the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

At an end-of-class demonstration a week ago, visitors who had never studied Tlingit were standing up, turning around, sitting down, and touching their head, nose, knees and a chair on command. By the end of the demonstration even the audience recognized a few words.

"One of the mistakes that language teachers often make is thinking they have to explain the language in English," said Iutzi-Mitchell. "The time you're thinking in English you're not thinking in Tlingit, not learning the language."

This summer the institute expanded to Ketchikan for the first time, where 27 students took Tlingit, Tsimsian or Haida last month. A beginners' class was offered in Sitka as well.

Many students of the institute become teachers, at least part time.

"I started out just wanting to learn it because that's the language of my heritage," said Yarrow Vaara, a University of Alaska Southeast student, "but then as I started learning I realized that with the language comes the responsibility to teach it."

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