Sunday May 29, 2016

FirstVoices app translates English to Indigenous languages

First Voices was created by First Peoples' Cultural Council in British Columbia. Choose your language like Blackfoot, Dene or Wendat and the app will customize your keyboard for the special characters required for texts, Facebook and Twitter.

First Voices was created by First Peoples' Cultural Council in British Columbia. Choose your language like Blackfoot, Dene or Wendat and the app will customize your keyboard for the special characters required for texts, Facebook and Twitter. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

Listen 8:24

If you've always wanted to text  in Cree, Anishinabemowin or Maori, there's an app for that.

FirstVoices was created by First Peoples' Cultural Council in British Columbia and has over 100 Indigenous languages including those from Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Once you choose a language like Blackfoot, Dene or Wendat, the app will customize your keyboard for the special characters required so you can text, send Facebook messages and even tweet.

Trish Rosborough is an assistant professor of Indigenous education specializing in language revitalization at the University of Victoria.

A grandmother of nine, Rosborough has been using it to communicate in her mother's tongue — Kwak'wala. 

"That evening when the app had come out, somebody from my home community was texting me late into the night, well late for us grandmothers," she said. "[lt was] almost midnight and she's saying, 'I really need to go to bed but I want to text in our language.'"

Language on a daily basis

Rosborough said the app can be used as a way to enhance and integrate Indigenous language into everyday life.

Trish Rosborough

Trish Rosborough is an assistant professor at the University of Victoria. (University of Victoria)

"You know in our languages, Indigenous languages, we're not using text on a daily basis. Some of us are learning language more through communicative models. But being able to write the language brings it into that other space."

Rosborough said she has also used it in her work to communicate with students going through immersion programs in languages she doesn't speak herself.  

"To be able to message people in those language groups, even though I don't know their languages, I can make my best effort to send perhaps a greeting in their languages."

For Rosborough, one of the benefits of the app getting more attention is seeing a range of languages going by in her Twitter and Facebook feeds. 

"It gives us a way to be really public about using our language," she explained. "Multimedia is a very public space and to be using our language in that very public space asserts that we are still here, our languages are still here, they're still living."