Our First Hour

Sgę:nǫ́ˀ swagwé:gǫh.

Sara and I did our first hour of Gayogo̲ho:nǫˀ on the evening of June 22! We went for a full 60 minutes, doing a combination of free speaking and more structured drills. 

The idea is that we’re following Leanne Hinton’s outline for master apprentice (MA) work, which means we have a couple of things to introduce as we move forward:

1) Leanne suggests establishing rituals with each other as master and apprentice. The idea is that there is something you both do every time you have a session, that you can count on to both learn the language for and set the tone. For example, maybe you always make tea together first and chat, before sitting down for the session proper. Me and Sara have discussed this a bit, but since we’ve only had one session so far, we haven’t established anything yet. We’ll let you know what we come up with! (Granted, we do both really like coffee.)

2) Another idea is that two things increase over time: The length of the sessions, and the amount of time spent in the language. In the book, I think Leanne is assuming that, at the beginning, part of the time might be spent using English, because the apprentice is assumed to be coming in with little or no language. This amount goes up until eventually even your planning sessions prior to your actual MA sessions are done in the language. We spent our entire 60 minutes in the language for our first session, which I think bodes well for having a strong start!

One thing I definitely noticed during our session is that it’s hard! I do have a bit of language to use, but there’s still also a lot that I just haven’t learned or heard, or ever had to say off the cuff. So it’s going to be a learning and improving experience for me as well, just as much as it is for Sara. Working together though, I know we’ll manage to get far!

Tsę nyo:weˀ dęjidwa̲htaǫnyǫ:ˀ!


The Starting Point

Sgę:no Swagwegǫh! Ǫdadrihǫnyanisoh gya:sǫh.

I have been trying to learn my language for several years now, except when I say mine—I really mean the Cayuga language. Technically, my language is Mohawk, given that I belong to the Mohawk Nation and the Turtle Clan. And technically, both of these languages have their own names in the language that we will be using in subsequent posts. 

The reason I’ve chosen to focus on learning Cayuga is because it’s the language I started to learn in Grade 1 prior to leaving the reserve and going to school in the mainstream provincial school system from Grade 4 on (where I learned French up until Grade 10). The other reason I’ve chosen to continue learning Cayuga is that my husband is a fairly good Cayuga language speaker and he can help me speak in our home, so we can do our best to pass our language on to our children, which we both really want to do. 

Recently, my husband and I helped to organize a conference through our respective places of employment—I work for Six Nations Polytechnic, an Indigenous postsecondary education institute. My work is primarily around program and policy development and I have a particular passion for language initiatives. He works for the Six Nations Language Commission helping to develop revitalization strategies and provide what support he can to the adult immersion programs that exist in our communities. His particular strength is in grammar and linguistics. Mine is in organization and administration. We have both learned a lot from the programs, speakers, language teachers and students in our community. It is our hope that everything we learned will help us have a successful year of speaking together. 

As we start this program, I am little more than a novice-mid speaker of the Cayuga language (based on an informal OPI taken last week that we will post a video of soon). In reflecting on what has impacted my learning or why I have not been successful in gaining a higher proficiency despite taking several classes and owning several resources, I think the answer is simple—I have not put in enough time. I have not spent enough time speaking the language. I have not spent enough time trying to memorize paradigms. I have not spent enough time trying to expand my vocabulary. This more than anything, has impeded my ability to become a more proficient speaker. 

My plan to address these areas is relatively straightforward. I plan to spend a minimum of one hour per day speaking Cayuga over the next year and as many hours as I can manage practicing speaking, learning vocabulary and listening to recordings. I will be sharing the actual contact hours here, as well as the tools, strategies and resources that I've used. It should be a very fun and challenging year! Wish us luck :).