Nova Scotia

Want to learn Mi'kmaw? There are dozens of apps for that

A small team in Cape Breton has developed about 40 apps to help teach and preserve the Mi'kmaw language.

Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey has developed 40 apps

One of the sections found in L’nui’suti, a Mi’kmaw language app, features the spelling and pronunciations of Canadian wildlife. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

A Cape Breton education team is helping preserve a First Nation language using new tools of the trade. 

About 40 online apps were developed on the island by a small team at Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, the province's Mi'kmaw education authority. The aim is to help kids and adults get a better handle on the Mi'kmaw language. 

"We were trying to meet the needs of language learners and we were trying to make it broad and diverse," said Yolanda Denny, a senior language consultant who worked on the apps.

"Language learners have different ways of learning .... so we tried to diversify our collection."

Relying on elders

In order to ensure the proper spellings, definitions and pronunciations, Denny said an advisory committee relies on knowledge keepers. 

"Our elders are our guides," she said. "They're the experts. I'm a fluent speaker but I'm also still learning. There's so much more that I don't know, so the elders are really helpful that way."

Denny said that in addition to dictionary or lexicon apps, there are also storybook apps that feature some popular Canadian translations.

The next app being worked on will teach Mi'kmaw learners about the correct usage of verbs.

Most downloaded app 

The most popular download released by Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, is its very first app known as L'nui'suti. It was created in 2015 to promote the language and to give non-speakers the opportunity to learn.

There have already been about 50,000 downloads of the free app on phones or other devices.

The free program provides both written and spoken translations of thousands of English words, as well as a history of Mi'kmaq people and their language

The app allows users to search words and offers categories for learning such as animals, greetings, colours and emotions. 

"We have studio-quality recordings of language experts and they give the proper explanations, you can always hear how it should sound," said J.R. Isadore,  IT manager for Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey and the lead programmer for its apps.

Isadore said their most recent app is geared towards parents and children learning and speaking together. That's been important to him, as he is also a new father. 

"Having the opportunity to be able to share the language with my child at a young age, so she gets used to hearing it and learns some of these concepts earlier than I did, I think kind of gives us a head start on her language learning," he said. 

Developers said the first apps got off the ground after seeing a decline in the Mi'kmaw language in Nova Scotia.

The purpose of the online tools is to make the language both fun and accessible.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton