Student graduate learning an endangered language over Zoom

Endangered language taught

A group of students wanting to learn an endangered language will graduate virtually after a seven-month course they worked on through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They started their course back in November at the Westbank Youth Centre in Westbank First Nation and had a goal of finishing Nsyilxcn 1, the first book of Nsyilxcn curriculum, and then call it quits. 

They then decided to continue on and study the second book, just before the pandemic hit.

The language is endangered with fewer than 100 fluent speakers in the entire Syilx Nation and is relatively unknown in the community outside the Nsyilxcn (Salish, Okanagan).

With the language course becoming a comfort for them during isolation the team continued through the learning process switching to an online platform, Zoom.

"Other than missing the potluck dinners, teachers found zooming was a great way to teach language to a small group and were amazed that students kept coming back every week," wrote Michele Johnson, executive director for the Syilx Language House in a press release. 

"The group is lucky in that they follow the Salish Curriculum which is highly structured and works well even over zoom. They are also lucky that the non-profit organizations that organized the class can respond quickly to change." 

The class was organized by the Syilx Language House (SLH) and Ti Kwu Ti Xilx Indigenous Association (TKI), two non-profits that focus on language in the Syilx Nation. 

The two non-profits partnered to train teachers and organize child care for the teachers. 

The partners had a full-time adult fluency program in Westbank and a full-time immersion nest for the toddlers of the staff. 

The three organizers, have been language activists for over a decade. “It has been an honour to teach this group,” added Johnson, the class organizer. “It is always amazing hearing learners speak their first words and laugh and grow together as a group.” 

The Syilx Nation stretches roughly from Revelstoke to Merritt, to Arrow Lakes and Spokane. 

Teachers of the course say not many learners are able to finish book 1, let alone book 2. 

“We never planned to teach the second book, but the group wanted to keep going."

The class had students ranging from 24 to 71 and most students are Syilx, but two are non-Indigenous who are learning out of interest.

The graduation ceremony was unable to take place this year, but the organizers sent in their names as a way to still celebrate their achievement. 

More Kelowna News