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(March 2014) A Planning the Future of Your Language workshop recently brought mother tongue speakers of twelve languages to Lima, Peru. Participants spent a week learning and making plans to keep their languages thriving for future generations.
Through engaging activities, the twenty-six participants explored issues of language vitality. Participants were asked to think about who is speaking their mother tongue and when, where, why and how the language is being used. Through these conversations, participants discovered the level of vitality their language currently has and what that means for the future. Based on that information, participants were equipped to make informed decisions about plans for language development in their communities—establishing appropriate goals and plotting out strategies to achieve those goals.
Some participants have already been involved in their communities’ language development efforts. For others, this was a first opportunity to gain awareness of how social and practical factors influence people to use their mother tongue or another language. For example, the language used in local schools can be a major factor in language vitality, as can a sense of shame or pride in the community’s language and cultural identity. Economic factors can also play a role—parents may feel their children will have better opportunities if they are fluent in a language of wider communication, rather than their mother tongue.
Facilitators had several goals for the workshop. In addition to pilot testing the newly-revised materials, they worked to ensure the following outcomes:
Facilitators were pleased to see participants’ excitement about the insights they gained during the week. Lead facilitator Carletta Roche observed, “There were key moments in the week when participants had brilliant contributions that helped clarify concepts and provide deeper meaning to the tools we were using. We hope to incorporate these contributions into future workshops.”
Walter is a translator who for thirty-two years has been involved in projects to translate both the Old and New Testament into Huamalíes Quechua, his mother tongue. He is now the director of a local organization dedicated to promoting the use of the translated Scriptures. Walter commented, “My involvement in Bible translation has always been motivated by my strong belief that the Bible is important. However, no one has ever asked me in all these years whether or not I think my language is important. During this event I realized that I have not considered my language to be important. If I had, I would have taught my children and my wife to speak my language. I would have done more to make sure we keep speaking our language.”
Other participant comments:
“In the past we always blamed outsiders for making us lose our language, but now I see that we have to take responsibility. We have to make the decision to take back our language and culture.”
“This tool is important because it helps us know how to think about our language so we can evaluate where we are at and where we are going.”
Several additional workshops are planned in the region. In April, Planning the Future of Your Language will be included at the beginning of a seven-week workshop to prepare the Chapra community for their community-based literacy effort. The Yanesha community has invited the training team to lead a PFYL workshop for bilingual teachers and pastors in August.
The materials used in the workshop will soon be made available as the Guide for Planning the Future of Your Language, a Beta version of which will be released in April.
The information presented in the Planning the Future of Your Language workshop and handbook was drawn from the Sustainable Use Model (SUM), a methodology developed by several SIL researchers. Dr. Gary Simons and Dr. M. Paul Lewis, the team behind SUM, have collaborated on a textbook explaining the model and its application. A draft version of the textbook will be used in an academic course in the SIL-UND training program in the summer of 2014. Simons and Lewis expect to publish the final version later this year.