Farmington native developed propensity for languages in college


FARMINGTON — By serving as director for the Navajo Language Immersion Institute, James McKenzie hopes to promote and help others learn the Navajo language.

McKenzie was hired in December as director for the institute, a component started last year at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

The institute is designed to promote effective development of Navajo language immersion programs and play a role in maintaining and revitalizing the language, McKenzie said in a telephone interview on Jan. 25.

Immersion programs have been shown to be effective in helping people retain a language, he said.

Another responsibility of the institute is to partner with other programs and communities to teach and promote the language.

"We realized it's important to have support and to have different resources available to schools, communities, parents and families who want to implement immersion, immersion practices for language learning and teaching," McKenzie said.

Diné College has hosted Navajo language immersion camps and developed courses that center on language and culture.

McKenzie would like the institute to build on the camps by establishing an environment on campus where the language is intensely studied and utilized.

"It's deeply tied to our core identity and who we are," McKenzie said about the language.

McKenzie, who was born in Farmington and raised in Albuquerque, arrived at the director's seat with more than five years of experience with Navajo language immersion efforts. He also has worked in other capacities at the college.

He realized he had a propensity for languages while in college and eventually learned German, Spanish, and Mandarin through the immersion experience.

As for Navajo, he started learning as an adult but remembers his paternal grandparents speaking the language when he visited them in Shiprock and Gallup.

"I'm still learning, and I continue to learn, and I push myself to learn every single day," he said about Navajo.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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