The Heart of Language Revitalization: Teaching Capacity

Contribution by Tachini Pete, NLCC T/TA Director

Where is my language community on the road to revitalization? The road is a metaphor for strategic planning, it is a guide to help us get where we want to go. Three components are at the heart of language revitalization: teaching capacity, language knowledge, and the learning path. Language knowledge is used to develop an efficient learning path, both of which are essential for creating teachers.

What is an effective language teacher? The dream teacher is one that is highly proficient in the language, has an in-depth knowledge of how the language works and has training and an educational background in second language acquisition and teaching. The capacity to transfer language hinges on the abilities, skills, and most importantly the proficiency level of each individual teacher. The primary objective of a revitalization strategy is to create the capacity to transfer language efficiently; teachers are central to transferring language efficiently.

How are effective language teachers created? Becoming a language teacher must be thought of as a career. The community and language programs must invest heavily and long-term in individuals with an aptitude to teach. Creating teachers must be a fully supportive full-time endeavor. Two situations exist in language communities: one that has first language speakers with energy and time to teach full-time. And one that does not. Communities with first language speakers will have to invest extensively in training. These individuals will need to develop skills in second language acquisition and teaching. As well, these individuals must become familiar with how the language works. In communities that need to create speakers, an investment must be made in getting individuals to a high level of language proficiency.

It takes around 2,000 hours (yes, practically 1 year of a full-time equivalent (FTE)) of sequenced scaffolded learning to achieve an intermediate level of fluency and about 10,000 hours (5 years at FTE) to reach a high level of proficiency. This level of language learning investment cannot be achieved efficiently in the evening, weekend, or occasional immersion camps, it takes a full-time effort. If you do not have a 2,000-hour learning path, then one must be created. Learning path development is dependent on the level of language knowledge the community can document.

A highly effective language teacher is the key to any language learning program. The path to creating or becoming a highly effective language teacher is at the heart of language acquisition.

In the next two issues, we will discuss strategies to document language knowledge and build an effective learning path.