Recent research focusing on Native American languages and how they are taught is helping increase usage of the Cherokee language, in part, through online courses and modern textbooks developed by the Cherokee Nation.
Using these updated methods, the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Program continues to have a far-reaching impact, with up to 3,000 students taking online courses and around 400 taking community classes each year. Participating students are from all ages and all corners of the world.
“There are so many people interested in preserving the language,” said Ed Fields, an online instructor with the Cherokee Language Program who has taught courses for more than a decade.
Fields teaches a 10-week, online Cherokee language course in the spring and fall each year, with participants gathering online one hour per day, two days a week. His spring course started April 10 and fall class will start Sept. 11, with registration opening Aug. 28. Through a live camera, students see Fields as he uses his own curriculum and life experiences to teach Cherokee.
Online Cherokee language classes are offered for free from the Cherokee Nation website www.cherokee.org.
Courses are divided as Cherokee I for beginners, Cherokee II for intermediates and Cherokee III for advanced students. While classes are offered live, archived videos and materials are also posted online for those who have conflicting schedules. There is no limit to the number of participants, nor to the number of times a student can take the classes.
“Students have quizzes to test themselves and see if they’re learning, and they also help each other in the classroom. It’s what we call ‘gadugi’ – you know, togetherness,” Fields said. “We emphasize gadugi to be resourceful. Quite a few students might not have anyone else to talk to, so the online interaction keeps them refreshed.”
Students as young as 9 have enrolled in the online course with parents’ permission, but Fields also sees high school students, college students, graduates with master’s degrees and doctorates, and elders who are teaching neighborhood children the language.
“A lot of people who want to come to the class, their relatives spoke Cherokee but they don’t, so they want to honor their ancestors who spoke the language,” Fields said. “This is a good way to do it. One student recently said her father speaks Cherokee but she doesn’t know what he’s saying. One of these days, she’s going to answer him back in Cherokee. She’s going to surprise him, she said.”
Beginning this month, the Cherokee Nation Cherokee Language Program also introduced a new textbook to students in its community language classes. Titled “We Are Learning Cherokee,” the book incorporates newer methods of teaching Cherokee, compared to the older workbook, “See, Say, Write,” which has been used since 1991.
The new book, “We Are Learning Cherokee,” was designed with the second-language learner of Cherokee in mind. Lessons are built around grammar concepts and verb forms rather than memorization of simple word lists and phrases.
“This will help students learn how to create their own sentences and express their own thoughts rather than repeating simply what they have memorized,” Boney said. “‘We Are Learning Cherokee’ is designed to be used in the classroom as well as for use by students on their own.”
For more information on the Cherokee Nation Cherokee Language Program, including class offerings and schedules, log on to http://www.cherokee.org/About-The-Nation/Cherokee-Language or email email@example.com.