'Our language is not limited': Online tools, music help teach Navajo language
FARMINGTON — As Albert Brent Chase played a drum, the teachers attending his session at the Diné Language Teachers Association conference on Oct. 17 sang a flag song in the Navajo language.
Chase, who teaches Navajo language and culture at Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Arizona, explained after the song that the repetition helps students with pronunciation.
He added that he uses sign language and illustrations to help students – ranging from pre-kindergarten to middle school – learn how to speak, read and write Navajo.
"Diné, in general, are very visual. We got to use that," Chase said.
He added that teaching the language goes beyond giving lessons to those who are learning Navajo for the first time.
"Our language is not limited. So, take the power of your fluency then teach another person that's fluent, because another person that's fluent is going to say, 'I didn't know that.' Now, you shared something with them and you encouraged them to learn," he said.
The two-day conference, organized by the association and held at San Juan College, is designed to enhance skills and show methods for Navajo language teachers to use in the classrooms.
Rose Nofchissey, president of the association, said the group serves as a support system for teachers, including sharing strategies, procedures and ideas for teaching Navajo.
"Each Navajo language teacher is unique in how they teach. … There's not one common way of teaching the language," she said.
Alfred Yazzie takes his own approach in teaching the language to students at the Phoenix Union High School District in Phoenix.
Yazzie said majority of Navajo language textbooks focus on reservation life, which is challenging because that does not reflect the urban environment where his students live
"I can't rely on a textbook, in hopes that maybe someday they'll be able to use it when on the reservation. What they see daily is different," he said.
To solve the problem, Yazzie uses his understanding of Navajo to develop terms and descriptions that depict the city.
He explained that if a student lived in a townhouse, then they would learn a phrase in Navajo that means "two homes stacked on each other" or "the house stacked on each other."
An online Navajo language course is among the classes that Lorraine Begay Manavi teaches at San Juan College.
Manavi talked about the Navajo Rosetta Stone software, and online tools Zoom and Quizlet for students to learn the language.
Each program helps students with pronunciation, spelling and identifying terms, she said.
During a demonstration for Quizlet, she showed a game where students type in the Navajo word for the object shown on screen. If the student enters the correct word, then they avoid hitting a planet with an asteroid and earn a point.
Her students use Zoom for video conference then have conversations in the Navajo language.
Navajo language teachers on the reservation could use Zoom in their classrooms to connect and have students test their language skills, she said.
"I want them to walk away with the availability of other resources that our children are into now – technology," Manavi said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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