Miranda Gould, Kaleb Bugbe, Sarah Doucette

Whycocomagh Education Centre has begun offering conversational Mi'kmaw to students. Teacher Miranda Gould and students, Kaleb Bugbee, Grade 6, and Sarah Doucette, Grade 4, are participating in the program. (Submitted)

Students at the Whycocomagh Education Centre in Cape Breton are learning the language of their neighbours at the Waycobah first nation.

The P-8 school is offering a course in conversational Mi'kmaq for the first time this year.

Miranda Gould is teaching the course, she has 31 students including non-native and native students.

"We wanted to provide an equitable program for our students that attend the Whycocomagh Education Centre so because French and Gaelic are offered here, the drive for offering Mi'kmaq language was also a need."

The school now offers core language courses in four languages, and it recently hosted a public speaking festival in Mi'kmaq for the students to showcase their new language skills.

"I was very impressed with how they've challenged themselves to learn the language," said Gould.

"We've been neighbouring the Waycobah First Nation for over 100 years and it's wonderful to see non-native students want to learn the language so that in the future there would maybe be possible opportunities for them to converse in the First Nations language."

Gould said it's been a challenge to design the course but she decided to focus on spoken language first.

She said 90 per cent of the students were starting from scratch.

"It kind of just allows students to become familiar with the sounds, being able to pronounce and start to develop the confidence of being able to use the language because reading and writing is a bit more advanced", said Gould.

"A lot of it was saying commands and asking questions and seeing if students can respond to you appropriately."

Kaleb Bugbee is in Grade 6 at the Whycocomagh Education Centre.

He decided to take the course because he was curious.

"Well my dad he knows a lot of First Nations in the area so I decided that I might want to decide to speak their language," said Bugbee.

Sarah Doucette is from the Waycobah First Nation, she's in Grade 4 at the Whycocomagh Education Centre.

Her parents and brothers and sisters speak Mi'kmaq and she said she speaks a little bit of the language.

She said her family thinks it's "very good" that she's speaking more of the language now.

Gould said all the students are doing well.

"It's very well received, the students seem quite excited and I think it's fostered a sense of pride and recognition of their own first language and also for others learning a new language."