Fields, an online Cherokee language course instructor, uses
a live video stream to reach thousands of students across
the world each year.
TAHLEQUAH, OK 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
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
"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@example.com.