Welcome to Fool for Language

Welcome to Fool for Language, the site for people who are crazy about learning languages - like me! If you are new to this blog, I recommend you read the articles in order. The information will make better sense.

This is my first blog and writing each essay has been much more enjoyable than I expected. I have spent most of my life teaching and, more importantly, learning languages. I have “survived” a wide range of teaching techniques, materials and teachers. The result is that I have a pretty clear idea of what has and has NOT worked for me. Yes, I am opinionated, but even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will enjoy the stories and think about what gets you “wired” when you dive into the wonderful world of learning another language.

I want to thank some people who have helped me maintain momentum with this blog. To give you, the reader, a break, every 10th essay is written by a guest blogger, all close friends with their own special take on language learning. As for the uploading process, Kurt meticulously proofreads and makes insightful comments on each essay; while Yoh patiently provides technical support, including selection of the vibrant visuals. Thank you!


45. Saving Languages Online - Part 2/6: It takes the entire village

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the predicaments endangered languages face. Traditionally undermined by mainstream cultures, in today's world their biggest threat may be the Internet. But I also believe the Internet can be exploited to help a language and its cultural heritage survive, the focus of this essay.

In the endangered language communities that I have been involved with, there has often been a central meeting place, such as a lodge or longhouse, used for religious and social purposes, where decisions are made and information disseminated. These gathering places can be vibrant and critical to the life of a community. Why not transfer the concept to an online format by creating an "e-Community Center"?

The features of an e-Community Center are up to the indigenous group designing it and the resources they have to work with. Planning should involve a cross section of the community to ensure something of value for as many people as possible. The delivery platform must be accessible. Not everyone has a computer at home, but many have smartphones with a range of functions. Equally as important, the site should be interactive. An e-Community Center must contain more than photos of politicians shaking hands. It should allow for direct input and engage a broad spectrum of community members from youth to elders.

Based on experiences developing my own website, Sulantra.com, I can suggest the following tentative stages for creating an e-Community Center.

1. Brainstorm features of the "ideal" e-Community Center.

Create a planning group with a range of ages and interests to come up with tentative "zones" that have specific goals. Encourage members familiar with the Internet to suggest features they like on other sites. Spaces specific to the e-Community Center could include a "Bulletin Board" with updates on happenings in the area; an "Arts Center" for locals to display their artistic and performing art endeavours; an "Our Stories" area to encourage interaction between youth and their elders through the sharing of stories from the past and present; a "Language Trove" with structured courses in the heritage language, as well as an online glossary for inputting words and phrases collected from community elders; or a "Chat Room" where visitors can practice using the heritage language as they learn it. The ideas are as endless as the collective imagination of the planners.

2. Prioritize and confirm what is really feasible.

Your e-Community Center wish list will have to be prioritized as it will be impossible to simultaneously complete all features. Which spaces are crucial or would generate the most interest and traffic? Which features can be scheduled for later development? The brainstorming group can decide the order; however, a technician familiar with computer programming should be involved. What appears simple on paper could be a programming nightmare or even impossible.

3. Collect content.

The e-Community Center has endless possibilities for providing information and services to meet specific needs. Once key features have been decided, content that meets clear goals should be prepared. In my next blogpost, I will discuss in more depth possible content for the features mentioned in the first stage.

4. Design à la "shopping mall".

The next task is to organize a framework for the features you have chosen to make them accessible. For non-computer geeks (like me), one way to approach design is to think of your website like a shopping mall. Decide core features then group less critical functions around them. The latter should be easy to find for people with specific interests. There also needs to be room for expansion as you consider new features.

Professional web designers are useful; however, their references may be computer games, not cultural frames. Your website must be easy to navigate for EVERY member of the community. Have the designer identify family members intimidated by computers ("Could your grandmother navigate this website?") or, better still, introduce the designer to actual people. With computer novices in mind, your designer should create a more accessible venue.

5. Construct the site.

Building of a comprehensive website where a heritage language community can "gather" may seem daunting. Obviously, a technician is necessary to create a website that is easy to maintain and serves everyone. He or she should understand the community's needs then investigate existing sites for features that can be adapted or used in their entirety (e.g. as an affiliated site) to meet specific goals. There is no need to re-invent the wheel if Facebook or YouTube can meet your needs. You can customize later when you have the time and funds.

One final point is that your technician must be willing to give up the reins and train local replacements to maintain the e-Community Center. Ideally, he or she should remain available for consultations, but responsibility for managing the website belongs to the community.

The creation of an e-Community Center requires dedicated efforts and a budget. Some indigenous communities have access to heritage funds; others are on their own and must approach outside entities for resources. With expertise in funding proposals, universities can be a promising route for accessing funds. And with a pool of talent on staff at your local university, combining advisors from Anthropology, Linguistics, and Computer Science departments can make for an exceptional website. On the other hand, don't let the academics take over. It's fine to get by with a little help from friends, but make sure your e-Community Center is truly yours.

The good news is that, once a website has been created, it should be relatively inexpensive to maintain and build upon. You will have created something valuable and enduring for your community and, if you are willing to share, other communities can benefit from your innovation and expertise.

(If you are really a fool for language, check out my language learning website at http://en.sulantra.com/ with courses from and to English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese,Turkish, Bulgarian, Thai, German, KoreanPortuguese and Italian!)

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