Why is this so hard?
Endangerment, ideology, and Ojibwe language learning strategies


Wednesday 9 November, 16.30-17, Auditorium 1

Many language revitalization efforts have faced significant challenges in meeting their (often ambitious) objectives with respect to both language learning and use. Learners frequently find the process of second language acquisition arduous and slow, and there is often a mismatch between the expectations and the realities of language learning, resulting in high dropout rates from organized language instruction or independent study.   Drawing on collaborative work with Native American (Ojibwe) teachers, learners, and community organizers, this talk examines some of the teaching and learning practices that fuel this mismatch between learner goals and expectations on the one hand, and their second language learning outcomes on the other. Of central importance in understanding this mismatch are language ideologies, including culturally rooted notions of what constitutes ‘correct’ language, ‘good’ (heritage) language learners and ‘good’ teachers, as well as what sort of work is most valuable in ‘saving’ the endangered language. Also critical are discourses of endangerment (Duchêne & Heller, 2007), including often-repeated claims about the rapidly diminishing numbers of speakers and the fragility of both the language and its community of speakers.

Through analysis of Ojibwe language teaching and learning practices and case studies of two successful adult learners, this talk illustrates how ideologies and discourses shape both individual strategies and group approaches to language teaching and learning in ways that are sometimes unproductive, resulting in the mismatch alluded to above. More broadly, I argue that that for language revitalization efforts – and for individuals– to experience higher levels of success with respect to language learning outcomes, greater attention needs to be paid to (a) how ideologies specific to endangered language contexts can lead to particular language learning strategies, and (b) how current findings from interaction-focused second language acquisition research can be leveraged for more productive and efficient language learning outcomes.