Learning a new language means starting with the basics, and Tlingit students now have a new teaching tool. The Sealaska Heritage Institute launched an app that brings sights and sounds to your cell phone.
Shirley Kendall, a Tlingit instructor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said it’s important to get the right pronunciations when you’re trying to take up Tlingit.
“They can listen to the sounds but I tell the students, ‘Look at my mouth,’ so they know how to form the letters,” she said.
The Tlingit alphabet has more than 50 letters, including eight different exes: x, xw, x’, x’w, x, xw, x’w, and x’. Tlingit teaching assistant Kyle Worl said there are also four sounds not found in any other known language.
“The guttural ejective X,” he sounded out. “Then you can round it.”
While Kendall said the best way to learn is from hearing others speak, she said anything helps to revitalize the language with just a few hundred native speakers left.
“They actually predicted the language would be extinct by the year 2000,” she said. “I guess how they estimated that is by our age. I’m 84 and I’m still here and I try to keep it alive.”
Keeping it alive and thriving for a new generation of people. Worl said learning the sounds of his Southeast ancestors is a way to bring the language back to life.
“Our culture is the same thing as our language. So in order to be Tlingit I should speak Tlingit,” he said. “Going to class twice a week for an hour and a half you’re never going to learn the language like that so it’s important we take the language wherever we go and use it every single day.”
The same games and quizzes on the new app are available on desktop computers too.