Speaking of Fluency

"Wakȟálapi yachíŋ he?" Caryna says, holding up a carafe of coffee. Her guest pauses, taking a moment to process what she is saying then shakes her head saying, "Hiyá, philámayaye," to thank her and let her know she doesn't want any coffee. As commonplace as this interaction might seem, for new learners of a language casual conversations like these can be moments of triumph.

Over the past year the employees at Thunder Valley CDC’s Porcupine office have had the opportunity to learn Lakota as part of our Second Language Learner Program (2LL). Our organization made a commitment to increasing fluency by taking weekly classes, using online learning resources, playing games in Lakota and more. Using the “Gaelic Method,” which involves narrating your actions as you do them (as Christina shows in the image below). Staff have been learning basic conversations such as welcoming a guest into your home, hanging up their coat and offering them coffee. Although many employees already have a basic grasp of the language, most are not fluent enough to spend an entire day speaking totally in Lakota. But the staff at our Lakota Immersion Daycare Program in Oglala are changing that.

“We’ve been trying to stay in Lakota all the time, even when emailing or texting,” says 2LL Program Coordinator, Christina Giago. “It’s really a challenge but it expands our vocabulary beyond the everyday classroom conversations with the kids.”

Lakota is exclusively spoken to the 21 Pre-K children who attend our daycare, but amongst staff slipping into English can be more expedient. However, just like with the immersion setting the children learn in to fully grasp the language, the adults are also challenging themselves through immersion as well. The staff of the Lakota Language Initiative (LLI) not only try to stay in Lakota at all times, but also do weekly competitions through online language learning programs.

The Porcupine staff are working to catch up since for them, visiting our immersion classroom often means staying silent to avoid breaking into English while interacting with the wayáwa čík'ala (little learners) is the typical habit of anyone who doesn’t have the vocabulary or the practice to hold conversations. And since the start of the new year, employees at the Daycare are making an effort to stay in Lakota 100% of the time, even when not in the classroom.  

 “I really want to be able to go visit the daycare and speak with the kids,” says Advancement Coordinator, Billie White, who has recently begun leading the weekly language review sessions. “Learning the language is challenging but it’s very exciting.”


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