February 07, 2008

Arapaho immersion school

Reviving a dying languageTo save the language, the Council of Elders has completed a strategic plan, and has secured funding, to create a new Arapaho Immersion Grade School, set to open in August.

If the council succeeds in its efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language, new generations of fluent speakers will begin to emerge in a few short years, Redman said. And the language will not only survive, but the Arapaho people will gradually reclaim more of their traditional culture, and become, on the whole, a more vibrant and healthy nation.

The Arapaho Immersion Grade School aims to build upon the foundation laid by the preschool.

The school will teach all standard elementary school subjects, save English, with all instruction and interaction done in Arapaho. Children who attend the school will be effectively immersed in the language for eight hours at a time, every school day.

The students will receive an English education, Redman said--but after school in their homes, with tutors.

If everything goes as planned, the children will be completely fluent in the Arapaho language by the third grade. But the more modest goal set by the council for the first crop of children will be fluency for all students by the time they finish the sixth grade.
Tribe:  Plan follows successful modelsPrevious efforts to revitalize the Arapaho language have largely failed, but the Northern Arapaho Council of Elders believes it has developed a plan that will finally succeed, taking cues from recent, successful language revival programs in Hawaii and New Zealand.

In both cases, the Hawaiian and Maori languages were moribund before revival efforts.

The Northern Arapaho Council of Elders estimates that there are 225--maybe 230--fluent speakers of Arapaho left on the planet. Almost all are over the age of 60, and every time a fluent speaker dies, usually of old age, the number drops by one. The Arapaho language "is now in its 59th minute of the last hour of survival," the Council of Elders wrote recently.

The revival of indigenous languages is a worldwide movement, which has gained significant momentum over the past two decades. A few flourishing programs around the globe have helped establish something of a blueprint for success, the council believes.

Arapahoe School, which last spring completed the first year of a five-year federal grant to create a bilingual, English-Arapaho, program, also took inspiration from the successful Hawaiian and Maori language programs.

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