BLANDING, San Juan County — A program to learn the Navajo language will go live on Duolingo’s website Monday — and it was created locally by teachers and students in the San Juan School District.
“Duolingo recently decided that after covering some of the world’s largest languages, we also had a responsibility to some of the smaller languages,” said Myra Awodey, project manager for Duolingo’s Endangered Languages Project.
Awodey said when the idea for the project came about, Navajo seemed like the natural language to add first because it’s the largest North American indigenous language.
At San Juan High School, students have the chance to take a unique class: Navajo Language. The successful class and teaching style have been their attempt to save a dying language. Faculty and students in the San Juan School District have now also helped bring Navajo to Duolingo.
Charlotta Lacy teaches the Navajo language class at San Juan High School and has been a key member in helping bring it to the Duolingo program. Lacy said she grew up with Navajo as her first language — her family spoke it and her grandparents taught it in their home.
Lacy said her students were excited to participate when she presented the idea of taking Navajo to Duolingo.
“When we started implementing the Navajo language into Duolingo, we have the entire class who just jumped in and started putting in words and sentences that they have learned from class and some that had known from being taught at home,” Lacy said.
Lacy also said when they were deciding which topics to include in the Duolingo curriculum, they asked the students. The program will focus on learning Navajo for numbers, food, introductions and identification.
“In our culture, we really value the importance of knowing who you and being centered and having a really positive self-image of yourself,” Lacy said. “I feel like Duolingo has really given my students an opportunity to build character and also to build confidence in themselves so they can share this language with other people.”
The Navajo program on Duolingo will be available online Monday, with a mobile app program soon to follow. Awodey also mentioned the programs on Duolingo are available for download so people can learn languages offline.
“Our mission is to make education more fair and accessible. A big part of that is making sure that it’s completely free for everyone,” Awodey said.
She mentioned that Duolingo is made for everyone ranging from Bill Gates, who she said used the program to learn Spanish, to members of impoverished nations.
“When the richest man in the world and economically impoverished people are using the same tool, it means there is no difference in the quality of education materials that they’re using,” Awodey said. “When we offer communities a tool, we want to make sure everyone has access to it.”
Awodey said Duolingo welcomes feedback from the community about their programs in hopes of improving the quality of each course.