Standup comedian and mother team up for Anishinaabemowin lessons in new podcast

A new lighthearted podcast by standup comedian Paul Rabliauskas and his mom invites people to listen and learn as she tries to teach him the family’s language — Anishinaabemowin.

Paul and Sophia Rabliauskas started a podcast to help people learn as she teaches him the language

Sophia Rabliauskas has been giving her son Paul Rabliauskas Anishinaabemowin lessons on their new podcast. (Whitney Bittern)

A new lighthearted podcast by standup comedian Paul Rabliauskas and his mom invites people to listen and learn as she tries to teach him the family's language — Anishinaabemowin.

"It's beautiful working with my mom, because she knows me and she knows she needs to have patience with me," said Rabliauskas. 

The podcast, Paul Anishinaabemo (Speaks Ojibwe), has three one-hour episodes so far and includes language lessons like the Seven Grandfather Teachings, common introductions and Valentine's Day greetings.

"My mom basically sits down with me and we spend the first part of the podcast sort of just talking about the language. And then the second half we go through specific lessons where we run through phrases and words," said Rabliauskas.
Paul is a standup comedian who moved back to Poplar River First Nation nearly two years ago. He is a self-described mama's boy and said that it's nice to laugh with her during the recordings. (CBC)

For the past few Sundays, Rabliauskas has been recording the conversations with his mom, Sophia Rabliauskas, at her kitchen table in Poplar River First Nation, which is 347 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

"It's fun for me to learn," said Paul Rabliauskas. "I wake up on Sundays and I have a big smile on my face. And I'm already thinking about the lesson that we're going to have."

When he was a young child, Rabliauskas heard a lot of Anishinaabemowin spoken in his community. 

His grandparents spoke the language, as did his aunts and uncles. Even his dad, who is Lithuanian, speaks the language fluently after living in the community for the last 40-plus years.

The family connection

As Rabliauskas has gotten older, he has come to regret not being able to speak his mother's tongue and has been wanting to work on a language project with her for a couple of years.

"There's just really good energy that's involved in recording these and learning this language. And that comes from the language that my mom talks about — sort of the language being its own spirit," said Rabliauskas.

When she was a young adult, Sophia said that she didn't put emphasis on teaching her children Anishinaabemowin because she was taught that in order to be successful, they had to prioritize English.
Sophia Rabliauskas would like to see more community programming dedicated to Anishinaabemowin and hopes to see more language speakers in the next 10 years. (Submitted by Pimachiowin Aki Corporation )

"I didn't think it was that important because we were made to believe that our language didn't have value anymore when I was growing up," she said.

Today she recognizes the importance of language revitalization, as there are fewer speakers in her community with each passing year. It's the main reason why the usually shy woman decided to do the podcast with her son.

She is considering going back to teach the language at the Poplar River Elementary School for a second time and was a key advocate in getting her traditional territory Pimachiowin Aki ('The Land That Gives Life') a UNESCO world heritage site designation.

Podcasts for the youth

Podcasts can be a great tool to document Indigenous languages, and Sophia believes the technology will also help introduce the language to younger audiences.

For one listener, the three episodes of the podcast have already sparked curiosity in the young people around her. Anishinaabe grandmother Aldeen Mason moved from Sagkeeng First Nation last year to be closer to her grandchildren in Victoria. 

Aldeen Mason moved from Manitoba to B.C. to be closer to her grandchildren during the pandemic. Hearing the language on the podcast makes her feel closer to home. (Submitted.)

"I was listening one day, and my grandson came home from school and he stopped in my place before he went home," said Mason.

"So he started listening with me, and I was writing down the phonetic spelling. And so when we had a break, he would say, 'How would you say that?' And then I would teach them the way that Sophia had written it down."

Mason said that listening to the podcast is like sitting in the same room with the Rabliauskas and that she enjoys the humour between the two hosts.

The podcast releases new episodes on Mondays and can be found on most podcast platforms.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.