New app teaches students Blackfoot language

Vivian Ayoungman has developed an app to help her students learn the Blackfoot language.

Few people still speak the language of the Blackfoot Confederacy

Vivian Ayoungman developed an app that teaches users the Blackfoot language. (Supplied)

The once vibrant Blackfoot language — native to several First Nations in Alberta — is in danger of disappearing.

But a teacher on the Siksika Nation hopes to change that with an app she developed to help her students, and others, reclaim an essential part of their culture.

Vivian Ayoungman, who teaches at the Old Sun Community College, said she and the college tried a number of approaches to try to encourage younger people to pick up the language.

"This one has a lot of promise because so many people are now using apps, phones and tablets," she said. "So we figured they will have access to the language if we developed an app."

The app, called "Blackfoot Language" and available for Apple devices, has games, quizzes and also features the option to record yourself and listen back to your words.

"The feedback is instantaneous," Ayoungman said. 

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A threatened language

Back in the 1980s, when Ayoungman first started working in the language, the state of the Blackfoot language was "pretty grim."

She recalled talking to principals who could count on one hand the number of students who could speak Blackfoot.

"It was really scary to think about that and since then it's gotten worse," she said. 

 At that time, she feared that the number of people who knew the language would dwindle even more.

"We are in those times now," Ayoungman added.  

With the app, Ayoungman hopes more people will come back to the language.

"Each word that you say is a real window into our history," she said. 

"Our language is very descriptive so when you hear a word you can almost visualize what you're talking about. Not only that but our language contains our value system and the way people interrelate, our stories are told in the language."

"When you translate them into English they don't carry the same weight and the same message," she added.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener