Keeping alive a language and culture that were on the verge of dying is critical, and making Cherokee language classes available online has successfully contributed to the effort, said B.J. Foreman, multi-media director for the Cherokee Nation.
The online classes are available to the public free of charge, Foreman said; an internet connection and free online registration at www.cherokee.org is all that is needed to access the classes. The classes can be located by clicking “Language Classes” under “Quick Links” on the left side of the website.
As part of the revitalization effort, three classes are offered online, Foreman said. Cherokee I, II and III get progressively harder. Cherokee I is for beginners while Cherokee III is for more advanced students, according to a recent news release from the tribe about the Cherokee Nation Cherokee Language program. The beginning classes are more phonetics based, Foreman said, while the more advanced courses rely more on the Cherokee syllabary, the set of written symbols created by Sequoyah to represent the Cherokee language.
Students receive a certificate of completion once they complete all three language courses and take the post test, Foreman said. The classes are not accredited.
The online instructor, Ed Fields, teaches two live classes which each meet for one hour twice weekly during the fall and spring semesters, Foreman said. The classes are not offered during the summer months. Fields is quoted in the news release as saying that he wants the students to learn. The class is not a prerequisite for any other course, so participants “are taking the class because they have a genuine desire to learn” the language, he said, according to the release.
Fields uses video and audio so students can both see and hear him, Foreman explained. The audio is beneficial, as it allows students to hear the language being spoken as Fields teaches, he said. Students in the virtual classroom interact using only their keyboards, Foreman said, however the class is “pretty interactive.”
Fields “uses his own curriculum and life experiences to teach” the Cherokee language classes, according to the news release.
The Cherokee Nation Cherokee Language program has also introduced a new textbook, according to the release. “We Are Learning Cherokee” uses newer methods of teaching the language and replaces “See, Say, Write,” which has been in use since 1991, the release said. The new textbook was introduced in response to a “lot more research and studies … on the teaching methods of Native American languages,” said Roy Boney, manager of the language program, according to the news release. The new textbook, he said, “will help students learn how to create their own sentences and express their own thoughts” as opposed to using rote memorization.
A growing community of students takes the Cherokee language classes each year, Foreman said. If you do not speak the language and engage with it, it is hard to maintain, he said. Also, the curriculum is updated regularly. So, many students refresh occasionally to “brush up” on the language and benefit from new curriculum that may have been updated, Foreman said. New students take the class as well, he said.
Freeman said statistics regarding class participation are not available; however, he did acknowledge that quite a few of the language students are retired, while the younger population is also well represented.
Students are comprised of people from all over world, he added. Although they do not advertise the classes, Foreman said, students from as far away as Australia have discovered and taken the online classes. A lot of students have enrolled from North Carolina, where a band of Cherokees resides. Europe also is well-represented, he said.
Students are scattered along the coastline and all over the world, suggestive of how the Cherokee language has spread, Foreman said.
The actual online classes are archived, and only the most recent classes are available online, Foreman said. The former classes are made available online for those who cannot attend the live classes or want to refresh, he said. Current classes, as they are recorded, are only available for current students and are designed for those who have to miss a session of the class, he said. The archived classes available are usually not more than a year old, Foreman said. They do not require registration, as live class participation does, he said. The textbook is noted in the release as being available only to those enrolled in the online course.
People take the Cherokee language classes for the purpose of communication within the tribe, Foreman said. Many take the class, Fields is quoted as saying in the release, to “honor their ancestors who spoke the language.”