Thunder Bay

New Indigenous language app targets '21st century' learners

Want to improve your Ojibway language skills? There's now an app for that.
A student tries out the new KOBE Learn app. (Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education)

It's a truly modern teaching tool, and the creators of a new app developed in northwestern Ontario hope it will help to carry Indigenous languages into the future. 

KOBE Learn is an app designed to help young users learn common words and phrases in Ojibway, Cree and Oji-Cree, the traditional languages of the northern communities served by the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education. 

"The focus was on the 21st century learner," said Sarah Johnson, the native language lead with the board, "many of our children are focusing now on technology." 

The app was developed by the board with the help of language teachers, elders and community members, she said, who worked together to decide on the phrases and the corresponding syllabics, and to make recordings of the words being spoken aloud. 

Recordings of words in Cree, Oji-Cree and Ojibway were made so that users of the app can hear how they sound. (Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education)

When a user downloads the app, they can browse through 30 categories of words and phrases. Under the traditional clothing category users can learn the words for items like "shawl" and "prayer blanket." Tap on survival phrases to learn how to say things like "my name is," or "I am learning Oji-Cree."

Although it was a challenge, they also worked to include phrases related to modern technologies. 

Johnson said they hope the app will help to preserve traditional languages.

"Many of our elders are passing away, each day, and it's really important to keep what we have now. A lot of our children entering school are not speaking their first language. So this is one small way of retaining, keeping the language."

When a user taps on the word, they both hear the audio and see the corresponding syllabics. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

So far, it's being well received she said, explaining that when it was announced, the news spread quickly on social media.

"It spread like fire. And everyone was just so excited in hearing the voices of our people, the local people."  

The tool will be used in the five KO schools located in Fort Severn, Keewaywin, Deer Lake, North Spirit Lake and Poplar Hill, she said, but it is also be free and available for anyone to download.