Language experts worried about future of Inupiaq language

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

BARROW (AP) -- The future of the Inupiaq language is in trouble, language experts say.

While Inupiaq is widely spoken in North Alaska, young people are not always choosing to learn their native language in school.

Barrow students can enroll in up to four year of Inupiaq immersion classes, where the students take all of their classes in Inupiaq. In the villages Inupiaq classes are available in the schools but are often optional, held only a few days a week, and are poorly attended.

Immersion teacher Dick Weyiouanna spoke of the difficulties.

''We are all trained as teachers and we all speak Inupiaq,'' he said. ''We are just not necessarily trained as language teachers.''

The North Slope Borough School District has directed several studies and task forces toward the problem.

Helena Curtain of the Milwaukee school district worked with the Inupiaq class and immersion teachers earlier this month to improve their language teaching skills.

Improvement of teaching methods is a goal, said Janna Harcharek, director of the Inupiaq language program for the North Slope Schools.

''In all of the studies we have done, it has been strongly recommended that we do more staff development,'' she said.

Curtain is an expert on language teaching techniques, particularly immersion programs, and has assisted in setting up similar programs across the country. She said her goal and the goals of the teachers in the North Slope are similar.

''The problem here, and both groups of teachers say the same thing, is to get students to produce more language,'' she said.

Immersion teacher Scott Fligor said the students pass all the reading and writing tests but are not learning to really speak the language.

Curtain believes that expanding the immersion classes is the most effective way of preserving the language.

''I believe it is very far reaching and forward thinking to have an immersion program,'' Curtain said. ''It is the best way to teach a language. Instead of talking about how to use a language, they are applying it to their every day activities.''

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