By Nicole Martin
What does it take to become a speaker of a language you were not raised up with from infancy and how long would it take to become proficient?
Naturally language transmission happened being surrounded in the community by loved ones where we learned from watching and mocking others on their sounds and actions. Since many of us don’t live with our elders to transmit language to us in the home Immersion schools have been growing and advancing with the times recognizing how important and effective they can be. Some have first language speakers others only advanced second language speakers to transmit the knowledge.
O’tgwanö:nyö:’, Gaweniyosta ni:’a, I am currently occupying a seat on the Agwadeyesta Board of Directors here in Ohi:yo’. My passion for languages, cultural experiences and a thirst for cosmological knowledges have led me on a remarkable journey the past 20 years meeting beautiful human beings and doing a job that not many in the world have the opportunity to do-working in an immersion setting -striving to help in the efforts of language revitalization.
I will share with you some insights into the adult immersion curriculum that has been implemented in the beginning of 2017. The Immersion environment combined with the root-word method takes a simple approach on the road to become a beginner speaker and comprehend-er of the language. With many hours in the hotseat you can easily -but not without wit and determination-go from a person with very little vocabulary -nouns- to a full sentence speaking chatterbox in as little as a couple months. The very first day you begin hearing the sounds and making simple complete sentences.
Language Immersion programs have existed since the late seventies around Haudenosaunee Country-mainly for school aged children. Some might argue it’s the best way to replicate an environment that can best effectively produce a speaker in the shortest amount of time. With a daily intention of exposing the circle of students to as much information on a daily basis that you want them to learn- you cut out the English completely early on, (within the first few weeks after they are comfortable with how the days experiences flow) explain by moving through various activities, pictures, hand gestures or actual items and reinforce the words from the days prior- what it is you are teaching.
At first there is a time where you’re exposing your learner to the sounds of the language, where around 90% of the time they are taking it in and repeating what is being spoken. Mocking birds for the first little while. It takes a few weeks before the expected flow takes hold, the students gain confidence and want to talk more. This is the key. Let them talk. You ask them open questions that need more than one-word answers-such as “tell me what you did last evening?” Its easiest to talk about oneself when first starting off. “I went to the store with my family to buy some food, then we went home, my mom made us spaghetti. We ate together then I went for a bike ride before it got dark”. With a great plan of what it is you want your student to regurgitate in as little as a few months you will have the beginnings of a foundation for them to grow and think in our original languages.
Imagine a space, a community, a collective nation taking back and rekindling the words, that connect us to the land and to how we existed through the generations. As an adult, Immersion can get there if you are willing to contribute a few of your hair turning gray and a few headaches.