REVIEW - Lakota textbooks by AISRI, Indiana University

REVIEW - Lakota textbooks by AISRI, Indiana University

Postby admin » April 11th, 2011, 11:16 am

Review: AISRI Lakota language textbook series for Red Cloud School

(By Kimberly Campbell, Jan Ullrich and Ben Black Bear)

Those of us who participated in authoring this review are and have been deeply committed to the revitalization of the Lakota language. We feel strongly that at this point, given the urgency of revitalization efforts in Lakota communities, we cannot afford textbooks that cannot help the community to achieve this goal. Experience shows that low quality language teaching materials can be counterproductive to language revitalization efforts.
We also realize, as specialists, that it may be difficult for school administrators whose expertise lies elsewhere, to assess the real pedagogical worth of a series of language textbooks. Therefore we have decided to provide the following review of the new textbooks on the Lakota language recently published by the American Indian Studies Institute (AISRI) at Indiana University in collaboration with the Red Cloud School. The textbooks are available on-line at this address: http://www.redcloudschool.org/highschoo ... erials.htm


There are four textbooks: 5th Grade, 6th Grade, High School Level 1 and High School Level 2.

Our review is divided into four main parts:

1) Teaching method used in the textbooks
2) Grammatical and idiomatic quality of the Lakota language text involved
3) Coverage of Lakota structure by the curriculum
4) Final comments


1) Teaching method used in the textbooks

First of all, although approaches and methods in the field of second-language acquisition are well documented, and good models exist for both commonly and less-commonly taught languages, this series of textbooks demonstrates a significant lack of knowledge of the field of second-language acquisition.

In the series of textbooks under review, the main methodological approaches are explicit grammar description and translation from/to English. This makes the method of the books fall into the category of the Grammar Translation Method which has been abandoned by language methodologists and textbook writers for at least seven decades.

1A) Translation
All Lakota dialogues and sentences in these textbooks are translated into English. Such systematic translation encourages processing of the language through English. While giving an early impression of control, certainly to students but also to teachers, this practice can have a number of unintended consequences. First, students delay the moment of using Lakota as a language to communicate, since all communication actually passes through English. Students are not obliged to figure out Lakota meanings -- they can always look at the English -- and so fail to develop the skills to actually communicate in the target language. With systematic translation, students may be able to replicate memorized materials in communicative situations, but true creative communication, using sentences they have never actually seen in the books, will be beyond their abilities because they have not practiced this skill. Sentences that students do try to produce will tend to be ungrammatical and unidiomatic, reflecting the English structures that have shaped their Lakota learning experience. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the majority of Lakota sentences in the textbooks are ungrammatical or unidiomatic as will be seen in the second part of this review.
Translation from or to English is also at the core of most of the suggested activities, while there are almost no exercises that require students to communicate their own meaning in Lakota.

1B) Lakota words in English texts
The two high school level textbooks contain long texts written in English on Lakota history and culture. In these texts, many of the nouns that describe various aspects of Lakota culture are written in Lakota with a translation given in brackets or in a glossary below the text. Such texts are counter-productive to teaching and learning Lakota because they reinforce English as the primary language of the Lakota language classes.
Furthermore, the insertion of Lakota words into cultural texts in English encourages and validates speaking in English using Lakota words here and there, which is already common among some young Lakota people. Such pidgin-like practice encourages using Lakota words with English morphology and syntax, as shown in this example from book two (page 97): “Do Lekší’s and Até’s treat their nieces and nephews differently than each other? How about Tȟuŋwíŋ’s and Iná’s?” This encourages code switching, as well as the manipulation of Lakota words using English morphology (by adding ’s for plural etc.) which has a detrimental impact on real fluency in Lakota. As we have said above, Lakota becomes another way of speaking English.
Let us give you another example. These cultural texts written in English often introduce the Lakota words incorrectly: “Their warriors were caught in a prairie pȟéta on the way home from a battle.” The word pȟéta does mean fire, however, the Lakota word for ‘prairie fire’ is oná which does not involve pȟéta at all.
It is likely that these English texts will be popular among inexperienced or untrained Lakota language teachers as they make no demand on language teaching skills. The teacher can simply ask the class to read the text and then discuss the content in English. Another reason why some will like these texts is that they seemingly teach Lakota history and culture. Modern language textbooks around the world commonly teach history and culture of the target language speech community, however, these topics are integrated into language teaching activities; they are part of reading in the target language or doing tasks while practicing the target language. Such approaches represent learning language and culture using the target language, so it is learning culture from within, so to speak. The approach in the Red Cloud/AISRI textbooks represents learning about culture and history through the language of the English speaking society, that is, from the outside. In that way, students will not learn to live in their culture and history; they will learn ABOUT it from the perspective of an English speaking outsider. Moreover, it contributes nothing to the development of students’ Lakota language skills. In fact, it discourages them from speaking and thinking in Lakota.


1C) Grammar Explicit, rather than Grammar implicit teaching

Research on second-language acquisition shows that explicit focus on grammar is entirely ineffective for students below the age of twelve. The research evidence shows that until this age, second language acquisition takes place by experiencing the language and inducing its structures, rather than through explicit instruction about rules. Even for older students, a textbook based exclusively on grammar description will be ineffective. Explicit grammar description is too abstract for most young students and it uses meta-language that most students are not familiar with.
In addition, many of the descriptions of grammar rules in these textbooks are inaccurate or illustrated with unsuitable examples. For instance, on page 56 (5th grade), the description of the stative verb affixes ma- and ni- is illustrated on the verb ečíyapi ‘to be called by a name’. This word is not a stative verb but a passive participle created from an active verb.
Long grammar explanations put students in a passive role, but for real fluency to begin developing, again, students need to discover the structures of the language by manipulating them and using them with appropriate examples, rather than by reading about them. The old adage is true: Don't have students talk ABOUT -- or read ABOUT -- the language. Have them talk IN -- or read IN -- the language.

1D) Lack of practice activities with a communicative purpose
First, the books do not include an appropriate number of practice situations for students. Practice is absolutely necessary to developing fluency, as we all understand anecdotally when thinking about how young children learn language, through repetition, with mistakes, false starts and recasts. Older children learning a language that is not completely familiar to them must go through a similar process; therefore, the more opportunities for practice, the better.

Further, most of the activities listed for practice do not have a clear communicative purpose -- see page 10 and 11, book 4. In these activities, students are asked to formulate sentences without an interlocutor. No communication happens, so students are not practicing the most important skill for fluency: negotiation of meaning with another person, which lies at the heart of all communication. The textbooks recycle only about four or five activity types and none of them involve a real communicative purpose. Such activities leave students unengaged and unmotivated.


2) Quality of Lakota language within the textbooks

Errors in grammar are often difficult to avoid when writing educational materials on under-described and less-commonly-taught languages such as Lakota. These textbooks, however, contain ungrammatical constructions and unidiomatic sentences on every other page and their character reveals that the books were written by someone who has only rudimentary knowledge of the language and lacks deeper insights into its structure.

A detailed inspection of the Lakota in the 5th and 6th grade textbooks revealed that approximately 75% of all sentences are either grammatically incorrect or un-idiomatic (i.e. not written the way native speakers would say them). Most of the errors reveal that the sentences were created through the process of translation from English (that is why we avoid that as a teaching technique!) and by someone with very low competence in Lakota.

There are errors of all types, from occasional inconsistencies in spelling, to errors in semantics, morphology, syntax and grammar in the broader sense. An example of an error in semantics is the verb oyúspA (page 82 book 2) describing catching a flying object. The correct verb here is yukȟápA. An example of a morphological error is the 1st singular form of škíŋčiya given as waškíŋčiye (the correct form is škíŋmičiye). Grammatically-incorrect constructions, including wrong postpositions, articles, and incorrect word order, are far and away the most common type of error. Here are some examples:

Matȟó waŋ héčha yeló. It is a bear. (page 174, book 1),
instead of the proper: Matȟó héčha yeló.

Hé wayáwa kiŋ héčha. That (person) is a student.(page 95, book 3),
instead of the correct: Hé wayáwa héčha.

Wówapi eyá bluhá šni. I don’t have any books (page 21, book 2);
instead of the correct: Wówapi tákuni bluhá šni.

Wóškate óta waškáte waštéwalake.I like playing games. (page 52, book 2);
instead of the correct: Wóškate óta škál awáštewalake.

Ógle lečhála waŋží opȟéwatȟuŋ ktiŋ ye. (page 107, book 4)
instead of the correct: Ógle lečhála waŋží opȟéwatȟuŋ kte.

Naháŋȟči wayáta hwo? (page 239, book 4).
instead of the correct: Eháŋni wayáta hwo? or Tȟaŋníš wayáta hwo?

The full list of errors would be very long.

In many places the book authors were unable to follow the sentence patterns they introduce. For instance on page 146 (book 1) they establish Jack waníyetu kiŋ waštélake šni. as a pattern for ‘Jack doesn’t like winter’. Not only is this sentence ungrammatical but the authors are not able to follow the construction giving a different sentence structure a few pages later: Blokétu waštéyalaka he/hwo? Do you like summer? (page 164). The latter sentence lacks the article kiŋ used in the former sentence. But in fact, neither of the sentences is grammatically correct.
The books also contain a number of highly anglicized phrases, such as the reply to Tóškhe yaúŋ he? ‘How are you,’ -- Líla mawášte yeló. (page 6, book 1). This is a calque from the colloquial English phrase “I am good”. The reply used by fluent speakers is Taŋyáŋ waúŋ.
English influence is present not only in sentence structures but also in various cultural aspects. For instance the division of times of the day on page 62 (book 2) is based on how these are divided by English speakers.

The poor quality of Lakota presented in the books means that the language is not modeled correctly for students. And such materials will produce students who speak Lakota (if at all) using English sentence structure.

Another problem with the Lakota presentenced in these textbooks is its lack of authenticity and purposefulness. How is one going to use a sentence like the following? Dave hé miyé na Caitlin niyé yeló. I am Dave and you are Caitlin. (page 113, book 3) This is a typical example of sentences in these textbooks – they are not authentic and they lack broader context or communicative purpose. Much in the research on second language acquisition suggests that language teaching materials need to present authentic language in meaningful situations and with a clear communicative purpose. These attributes are completely missing in the Red Cloud/AISRI textbooks.

3) Coverage of Lakota structure by the curriculum

Although it is difficult to determine how many years the curriculum is designed to serve because the first two textbooks are indicated for 5th and 6th grade, while the second two for high school -- what happens for example in 7th and 8th grade? -- one must still question whether appropriate and possible progress is made through the 939 pages of the four books.

First, in terms of the physical layout of the textbooks, much of what could have been devoted to needed practice exercises is devoted to images that take up, in many cases, a half page or more and are decorative rather than functional. That is to say, they do not provide context or hints to students in terms of the lesson, and practice exercises.

Furthermore, much of what is taught in books 1 and 2 is simply repeated in books 3 and 4 without broadening the students’ knowledge significantly. Material is not recycled in a "spiral," that is, that when material is reviewed, no additional sophistication is practiced. Rather, students just see virtual repetitions of presentations in earlier textbooks, which does not help them to go forward or further in developing fluency.

Moreover, approximately 80% of the written material is in English while Lakota text covers only about 20% of the books. The ideal proportion should be the opposite, using English only for the necessary instructions and avoiding translation.

Additionally, only 980 vocabulary words are taught throughout the four books. If this is all that students learn all the way through high school, too much remains to be taught. This is selling students short. This amount of words should be introduced by a curriculum designed for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade. And by the time the students graduate from high school they should know several thousand words, not just 980. But this means that at a high school level they should have learned more than the rudimentary basics presented in the Red Cloud/AISRI textbooks.

The coverage is low not only in terms of vocabulary, but also with respect to morphology and syntax. For example the 1st person plural and 1st person dual are first introduced in the second high school level book. This means that students won’t know how to say “we went there” or “I want to go with you” until senior high school. That leaves much to be desired for making the students conversational in Lakota. Object personal affixes are not introduced by the textbook series at all. This means that students cannot say “I saw you,” “He heard me,” “they are looking for us” etc. With respect to morphology the books present less than a normal curriculum should introduce at an elementary level.

There is no audio component in the material. Not only do the textbooks not focus on pronunciation but no CD is provided either. Without a chance to practice listening comprehension the students will not be able to achieve communicative skills in the language.

4) Final comments
In summary, we, as highly-trained and experienced professionals in the field of Lakota language, second-language acquisition, and Lakota linguistics, feel strongly that these textbooks do not contribute to the revitalization of Lakota as a living language in daily use.
Clearly, the Red Cloud/AISRI textbooks were created without the input either of an experienced professional in second-language acquisition or a fluent expert in Lakota linguistics. Such textbooks as these would not pass the reviewing processes of any publisher focusing on second language teaching. These textbooks may be easier to teach when compared to other curricula with more demands on teaching skills, but will students speak Lakota at the end of this curriculum?
We believe there is a strong ethical imperative that linguists working with endangered languages and especially languages of formerly colonized peoples should give back to the community in return for the knowledge gained through research on these languages. And we also believe that this can only be done through a quality applied-linguistic component that addresses the linguistic needs of the speech community in a responsive, responsible and reliable way.


About the authors:
Ben Black Bear, Jr., former chair of the Lakota language department at Sinte Gleska University, accomplished Lakota translator, one of the most literate fluent native speakers today.
Kimberlee Campbell, retired Harvard professor with two decades of experience in training language teachers and with more than three decades of experience in teaching languages.
Jan Ullrich, one of the most accomplished scholars in Lakota language research, documentation and curriculum development, editor of the New Lakota Dictionary and other materials on the language, fluent speaker of Lakota who has been studying and researching the language for 25 years, with more than twenty years of experience in second language curriculum development and training language teachers.
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