Ed Fields, an online Cherokee language course instructor, uses a live video stream to reach thousands of students across the world each year.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Recent research focusing on Native American languages and how they are taught is helping revitalize 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 years old 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.”
Fields, of Tahlequah, earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Northeastern State University. He grew up exposed to the Cherokee language and uses stories he learned to teach others.
“I want them to learn; that’s what I’m here for,” Fields said. “There’s nothing that says you have to learn the Cherokee language, so those who enroll are taking the class because they have a genuine desire to learn it.”
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.
“See, Say, Write” focused on basic words and phrases and how to write them in the Cherokee Syllabary. Its primary goal was to help fluent Cherokee speakers learn to read and write in syllabary, and teaching second-language learners Cherokee was a secondary goal.
While the old workbook saw a couple of revisions through the years, language revitalization grew and changed.
“A lot more research and studies have been conducted on the teaching methods of Native American languages,” said Roy Boney, manager of the Cherokee Language Program. “Many students in the community language classes are repeat students, with some taking the classes since the introduction of the ‘See, Say, Write’ book in the ‘90s. In recent years, an increasing demand from our communities was for an updated Cherokee language textbook that could act as a companion to the classic ‘See, Say, Write’ but one that incorporated some of the new methodologies.”
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.”
The book is color-coded with marked phrases that have been recorded by fluent Cherokee speakers for proper pronunciation. Audio accompanying the book can be downloaded from Cherokee Nation’s website, www.cherokee.org/languagetech.
The new textbook is available only to students attending community language classes hosted by the Cherokee Nation, and more than 400 copies of the book were distributed for the March 2017 classes.
Cherokee Nation is printing and binding the books in-house, but could seek outside publication of the text for a wider distribution plan in the future.
The Cherokee Language Program consists of the office of translation, community language and language technology. Together they offer a variety of services, including translation of Cherokee documents, the creation of Cherokee language teaching materials, community and employee Cherokee language classes, and the development and support of Cherokee language on digital devices such as smart phones, tablets and computers.
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 protected].