What italki Learned From A Lesson In An Endangered Language

August 14th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | teachers - (Comments Off on What italki Learned From A Lesson In An Endangered Language)

A couple of weeks ago we have decided to show up to our office 2 hours early. through the streets and public transport of shanghai at 6 am is not the first thing that comes to mind that could be described as “fun” to try out a new language class. We fired up the meeting room projector and started our Skype lesson with one of our newest teachers, Ryan Heavy Head.

If the name strikes you as unusual, it is because Ryan is a teacher of Blackfoot, an Algonquian language (linguistic family containing many North American heritage languages) of the Blackfoot tribe in Northwestern US and Southwestern Canada. His ancestry includes Blackfoot as well.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 6.07.33 PM

 

This was the first group staff class, bringing italki staff and friends together for a rare glimpse of a language, culture, and worldview that may not exist in only one generation. The lecture served as a great introduction not only to the language itself, but to another worldview embedded in the language.

In discussions and comments about about preservation of language heritage we often see the sentiment of “why bother?”. There is an almost Darwinian argument made here, that assumes that a language is worth learning or saving based somehow on the number of speakers or it’s “usefulness”. It makes sense, too, as many language learners are motivated by practical reasons: passing tests and advancing careers.

Still, we can’t support this argument, not because of a knee-jerk fear of missing out, but because we believe that human experience and knowledge is valuable.

The time we spent speaking with Ryan about Niitsi’powahsin made it very plain to us just how much information can be embedded in conversation about language.The very structure of morphemes (basic units of meaning) in every word is elegantly descriptive in a way that reveals a fascinating amount of cultural context.

 

The name of the language itself can be broken down into several meaningful parts:

  • Niit – “first” or “original”, referring to the Plains Indians traditional way of life before encountering the Europeans.
  • -powahsin – “language”

 

Merging the two then creates the name for the “original language” of Blackfoot: Niitsi’powahsin.

By this logic we can produce more words, for example, adding the name for the non-blackfoot Europeans: –naapi, resulting in the word Naapi’powahsin.

Similar logic is applied to other words, with morpheme -itapi meaning “living being” resulting in the following: niitsitapi (first people, the Blackfoot), naa’pitapi (Europeans), matapi (human), maatomaita’pitapiiya(a mature, fully developed being; a respectable, kind person).

The combinatorial nature of the language makes it very descriptive, and also suggests the internal logic and worldview associated with the language.

 

But, what IS the Beaver Bundle?

We delved further into this worldview by discussing the “bundles” – sacred objects made of multiple animal hides representing the “treaties” between man and nature, which are further narrated in the oral tradition of the Blackfoot. As a people who have lived in a particular territory, the Blackfoot (or Siksikaitsitapi – literally “blackfoot people”) their relationship to the animals, cycles of nature, and social attitudes were reflected in the content of the language and stories, but also in the mechanics and logic of the language.

Exploring a new language is always exciting, but this particular case was especially interesting. The rarity of the language made us feel that we had a unique opportunity to experience language-learning. What’s more, we got to experience an endangered and exotic language in a way that was impossible in a traditional classroom setting.  Any large city will have an abundance of schools and courses for learning English, and any number of speakers and willing tutors of widely-known languages. Finding a professional teacher for a language that has only a few thousand native speakers, on the other hand, is a rare moment. Being able to experience Ryan’s lecture while sitting in our Shanghai office really underscored the advantage of online language learning.

The potential is there, at our fingertips, to dive deeply and personally into a worldview alien from our own. We are able to gain more than just learning vocabulary or grammar. We are able to access the real carriers of culture and knowledge, someone able to explain to us a perspective onto a new world, a human experience impossible to have with a book or a recording of a language.

This is one of the reasons why we are proud of our work, and of our community of teachers and learners. We are able to create a unique, truly human experience and promote understanding and self-reflection. We are creating a way to experience learning inaccessible through more traditional approaches. We hope then, that our community takes up the challenge to learn and explore, and to view language-learning not as a problem to be solved or chore to be done. Instead, we hope that language learning becomes a habit, a way of life, and a lens through which we can understand ourselves and each-other.

 

Ryan’s Profile can be found here.

Ryan’s youtube channel is also a great resource to learn about blackfoot culture and language, and oddly enough, how snake anti-venom is made.

For more information about Ryan and Blackfoot language and history, please check out this documentary.

If you’d like to see other fascinating initiatives about preserving Blackfoot language and heritage, check out this story about preserving the language through Hip-hop.

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italki spotted around the world!

August 12th, 2015 | Posted by Romain in event | feature | Language Challenge - (Comments Off on italki spotted around the world!)

Thank you all for writing great testimonials, participating (and winning!) in the June 2015 Language Challenge and for sending us these great photos.  As a special reward, we sent italki T-shirts to Language Challenge Winners all around the world and many of you posted these on Social Media.   We wanted to share some of these great pics of italki everywhere!

Czech Republic

Alena learning English and German.

Alena

Petr is learning Spanish and English

Petr

 

 

Vietnam

Johannes who is originally from Germany but now lives in Vietnam. He is learning Vietnamese.

Sans titre

Brazil

Arthur is learning Español

Arthur (more…)

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The Best Place to Practice Your Esperanto Skills in August is…

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Best Place to Practice Your Esperanto Skills in August is…)

On August 2nd, over 300 hundred young people from all corners of the world will assemble in Wiesbaden, Germany for cultural exchange, learning, and most importantly: a celebration. What they will be celebrating is a constructed language, Esperanto, at the 71st Esperanto Youth Congress. italki is proud to sponsor this event, and support the Esperanto community.

 

The Event:

The World Esperanto Youth Organization (Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo) TEJO, has created the Esperanto Youth Congress (Internacia Junulara Kongreso, or just IJK) to encourage the youth involved in the Esperanto movement to share their experience.

Most importantly, this event allows Esperanto speakers to practice speaking the language within a community, reinforcing the international applicability of the language. Many of the participants may still be starting out in the language; being able to reinforce the acquisition socially, through one-on-one communication in a friendly atmosphere helps preserve and encourage the community around this language.

The IJK started in 1938, in the The Netherlands, and is seeing its 71st iteration. The event has been held in multiple countries, and is the largest such event oriented specifically at encouraging younger speakers to improve and perfect their communicative Esperanto ability, and therefore encourage a new generation of practitioners of the language.

The Youth Congress generally sees several hundred Esperantists, approximately 18 – 35 years of age, who share a passion for “the language of hope” and the ideals of open cross-cultural communication.

 

italki Involvement:

italki has sponsored previous events like the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin (http://polyglotberlin.com/) and sees its role in the new language learning environment as that of supporting linguistic diversity, inter-personal learning, and effective, learn-by-doing approaches to education by connecting language learners with fluent or native-speaking teachers of any language, no matter where in the world those students or teachers may be.

Considering that Esperanto is a language without a country, going home after an event can mean leaving the Esperanto community except for online connections. Working together with the event organizers, italki is providing an online community with online teachers, and hopes to encourage enthusiastic new Esperanto speakers to keep practicing what they learned even after the event has finished.

More importantly, the spirit of the Esperanto culture (by nature multi-national, inclusive, and communication-oriented) aligns with the way that italki celebrates language learning and the important human connections that inevitably come with it.

It is italki’s mission to make learning a language an interpersonal, accessible, and affordable experience. Celebrating and supporting the Esperanto community and IJK simply falls within the company’s core beliefs.

 

Follow the Youth Congress on Twitter: @IJK2015

Follow italki on Twitter: @italki

 

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italki June 2015 Language Challenge BEFORE and AFTER videos !

July 21st, 2015 | Posted by Romain in feature | Language Challenge | Learning English | Learning Japanese | members | Motivation - (Comments Off on italki June 2015 Language Challenge BEFORE and AFTER videos !)

Check out Videos of Students Who Completed the June 2015 Language Challenge!

So, first of all we would like to thank everyone of you who have joined the June 2015 Language Challenge. Whatever your reasons of learning languages, we hope that by doing this challenge you will have a consistent language learning habit throughout 2015!

Here are some of the best videos that we received for this challenge:

Alex from England completed June 2015 Language Challenge learning Mandarin Chinese!

Alex is actually living in Beijing and want to improve his general language skills. His family came in July and he wanted to be able to handle every possible situations!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Jonathan from France successfully completed the Challenge!

He choose to learn Spanish with three different teachers from all over the world to familiarize himself with accents and pronunciation, a great idea !

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Pierre from Brasil completed the Language Challenge! His fourth Language Challenge!

He decided to improve his English for this language challenge.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge, we can see the progress:

Jimmy Mello from Brazil took the Language Challenge and complete it!

Jimmy Mello has been a member of italki for two years, and is really involved in learning languages! He’s a Professional Teacher but also an avid language learner!  He decided to learn Polish for this Language Challenge with… his own method: the Mello Method!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

Before the challenge he never spoke Polish before and made some great progress! See for yourself:

Yang from China successfully completed the challenge and learned Swedish!

He had a great teacher and is waiting from the new Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

Yang made some great progress in his Swedish:

Charlotte from Sweden/Germany learned French during this Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

“La langue de Molière” is difficult but here are her progress after one month of learning:

Zeeshan from United States completed the Language Challenge!

He learned Spanish and Japanese due to a personal interest of the culture. Zeeshan feels he made real progress during the challenge and we congratulate him.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Scott from United States decided to learn Spanish during this Language Challenge!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Hank also from United States learned German during this Language Challenge!

He pledged and swore that he would take 12 hours of lessons in June… and he succeeded!

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Helga from Russia successfully completed the Language Challenge!

She went on holiday to Italy so she decided to improve her speaking skills.

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Bianca from United States completed the Language Challenge to learn Spanish!

She’s going to be a Reading tutor in Spanish, so she needs to improve her pronunciation.

Here is the public video pledge that she made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

Vitor from Portugal really likes learning new languages!

He decided for this Language Challenge to improve his Chinese skills.

Here is the public video pledge that he made before the challenge:

And here is the video after challenge:

We really do hope that after the challenge you will not stop learning languages. We hope that this challenge gives you that extra push to keep learning languages throughout the year!

 

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Challenge recap!

The June 2015 Language Challenge has ended and it was an amazing success!

55% of challengers completed the challenge!

We did an analysis of this Challenge and it was similar to our previous Challenges (2015 New Year’s Challenge Wrap-Up2014 October Challenge2014 World Cup Challenge2014 New Year’s Challenge). For this challenge:

The challenge was to complete 12 hours of language lessons in the month of June (June 1st to June 30th) to win a reward of 300ITC!

We had challengers from all over the world; 80 countries were represented!

Top 5 countries participating :

1. United States of America
2. United Kingdom
3. Russian Federation
4. Australia
5. Brazil

And we even had some language learners from the below these countries (wow!):

– Syrian Arab Republic
– Puerto Rico
– Turkmenistan
– Zimbabwe
– Trinidad & Tobago
– Angola
– Libya
– Venezuela

52 different languages were learned during the challenge.

The 5 most popular languages that our challengers were learning were:

1. Spanish
2. English
3. Chinese

4. French
5. Japanese

We also had a much greater representation from our less common languages like:

– Latvian
– Belorussian
– Persian
– Telugu
– Cebuano
– Tamil

Other interesting tidbits:

91% of challengers who submitted a Public Video Pledge completed the Challenge! Wow – that pretty much means if you make a Public Video Pledge, you’ll complete the Challenge.
– One hardcore challenger complete 77.5 hours of lessons! That’s more than and hour and a half of lessons each day.
– One of our challengers (Sylin from France who actually speaks more than 30 languages!) learned 15 languages during the challenge!
10% of the challengers were also teachers.
3% just missed the challenge by one hour or less! Ouch.

Also a big congrats to some of our italki staff who finished the challenge like this guy below… (again they all get to keep their jobs!)

 

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