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Playing Scrabble in Chipewyan: New game helps teach language

If you think using the letter Q to nab a triple-word score is tough enough in English, try playing Scrabble in Chipewyan. That’s now possible, thanks to a teacher from Fort Smith, N.W.T.

'All the students that want to learn their language, please do. It's very exciting'

"They're getting to know how to use the resources we have, like the dictionaries,” says Boucher. (submitted by Sarah Pruys)

If you think using the letter Q to nab a triple-word score is tough enough in English, try playing Scrabble in Chipewyan.

That's now possible, thanks to Paul Boucher, a Chipewyan language teacher from Fort Smith, N.W.T. 
Teacher Paul Boucher playing Ɂëk’éch’a Helá with (L-R) Faith Gaudet, Cassidy Villeneuve and Silvio Verton (submitted by Sarah Pruys)

Over the past year, he's developed "Scramble" or Ɂëk'éch'a Helá, a Chipewyan version of the popular word game. And he's bringing it into his classroom at Paul William Kaeser High School as a teaching tool.

"This is an opportunity for us to take a game and translate it into a language so the kids can learn the language," says Boucher. 

"We've been playing it already. It's part of my activities during my lessons, I do that with the Grade 12s and I'm going to be starting to do that with my Grade 10s."

Scrabble v. Scramble

There is a slight difference between Scramble and its near-namesake. In Scrabble, you're meant to avoid the dictionary until someone throws down a challenge. In Scramble, the whole idea is to comb through the dictionary for possible words.

"It's twofold for me: they're getting to know how to use the resources we have, like the dictionaries... [and they're] getting to use the lessons — what I taught them and the words that they've learned," says Boucher.

"As they learn the game more, I will take the dictionary away. And as time goes on and they learn... how to spell and be creative and think about how the words are spelled … this will help them learn the language even faster." 
“As they learn the game more, I will take the dictionary away," says Boucher (submitted by Sarah Pruys)

Boucher says along with students, he'd also love to see his game played by fluent Chipewyan speakers.

"One of my dreams is getting two people like that to play and watch them. That would be super, and for the kids to watch them, that would be even better. Because then they'll know we can do this."

More games to come

Boucher is working with students to develop other games in Chipewyan, although he says he'll wait for them to announce the games so he doesn't steal their thunder.  

"One of them is just about done. And again it's involving the students and involving sentence structures, it's involving them using the tools that we have for them to learn the language," says Boucher

As for his own game?

"I dedicate it to all the students here. And all the students that want to learn their language, please do. It's very exciting, because [the languages are] so ancient, and to find the meaning of it: the history of our people are there."

with files from Loren McGinnis

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