First Nations Language Centre to begin testing on First Nations language apps

The app will focus on indigenous languages spoken in BC such as Haida (pictured), - Photo courtesy of SFU News

According to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, a Crown Corporation working to revitalize Aboriginal languages and culture in BC, there are 203 First Nations communities in BC with over 40 recognized languages. Many languages have no remaining fluent speakers and many face extinction without outside intervention. Dr. Marianne Ignace of SFU’s First Nations Language Centre (FNLC) is working on a technological solution to this problem.

The Centre is working on the Tlli7sa Storybook Mobile and Web Application concept, a series of apps looking to provide educational content for courses and general use. It uses visual, auditory, and interactive tools to teach both the languages of a community and the community’s cultural history.

Ignace hopes the apps can raise awareness for the 12 Indigenous languages of BC and the Yukon that are the focus of the apps as well as all Indigenous languages of BC and the Yukon. Her team has worked closely with many groups such as the Haida, Tlingit, and the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish), and have also worked with the Hellenic Studies Program by utilising a language tutor platform originally intended to teach Greek.

With a $2.5 million dollar federal government grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to develop the app, the Centre expects to start testing early pilot versions sometime during 2016. Ignace hopes to release the first group of apps to learners in 2017.

The communities, all of whom are working with the Centre through a seven-year partnership that began in 2013, will be given the option to release the apps to everyone in the world, or to directly manage content and access through a server.

With everything falling into place, Ignace hopes to have developed all the apps within the next five years. But it has been difficult at times, “because the languages are so different from one another. It really [wasn’t] feasible to work with a single content template,” she told SFU News. The contents of the apps have also taken a lot of time and effort to produce, especially with its “storybook” format of visual and auditory learning aids.

Ignace explained to SFU News that she hopes that the app, along with the Centre’s current efforts, will “provide a unique avenue to [learn their ancestral language].