Tribe Uses Technology to Facilitate Language Learning

Image of Broadcasting Ojibwe FullWith a total enrollment of 3,057 band members, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation is located in the northeast portion of Wisconsin. Approximately 1,608 members reside on the reservation. 

The tribe’s Ojibwe language program has been available to those who live on the reservation or in that geographic area, but there has been no way for tribal members living remotely to engage in language learning. 

Although Ojibwe is not threatened, the tribe’s particular Waaswaaganing dialect of Ojibwe has declined in use over the years, to the point of being at-risk.

To address these issues, the tribe applied for and received an Administration for Native Americans Language grant to launch the “Broadcast Ojibwe to Increase Achievement” project. The project’s purpose was to remove barriers to Waaswaaganing Ojibwe language learning, particularly among tribal youth and individuals who live remotely.

In order to provide access to remote language learners, project staff created, recorded, and uploaded 24 Waaswaaganing Ojibwe lessons in the form of podcasts. A podcast is a digital audio file or recording that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer. Each Waaswaaganing Ojibwe lesson podcast is comprised of a short story based on a distinct, culturally relevant topic of interest such as food, nature, or traditional cultural activities.   Each story contains 20 new terms and 10 new phrases.

Project staff created a website and uploaded the podcasts to www.ojibwelanguage.podomatic.com, where subscription is free for all users.   To promote the project and get feedback from subscribers, staff created a Facebook page that eventually garnered 1,186  “friends”  and was also used to link directly to the Podomatic site.

Project staff significantly exceeded their goal of 2,000 subscribers, with approximately 3,500 by project’s end.  This total includes subscribers in regions as far reaching as Alaska, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China (subscribers’ locations were gathered from internet protocol (I.P.) addresses from their home networks).

In order to enhance language learning among tribal youth, project staff worked with teachers and administrators at nearby Lakeland Union High School. Ojibwe was already offered at the school for language credit, but through this project students were furnished with iPods to access the podcasts that had been created. 

Project staff also created electronic workbooks with pre- and post- tests to accompany each podcast, and had a goal of 16 students completing the course. By project’s end, 34 students completed the course.  They achieved an average proficiency rate of 90 percent on post-tests, thereby demonstrating significant language learning.  Project staff stated that in addition to increasing proficiency in their native language, many of the students expressed a newfound pride in their culture.

The resources created through this project will have long-lasting benefits. Podomatic is a free hosting site for podcasts and there is no expiration on uploads.  As a result, the language lessons that project staff created will be a lasting resource available for future learners.