Members of the Level 3 Textbook Development Team: Wil Meya,
Kim Campbell, Jan Ullrich, Ben Black Bear (not pictured)
Approximately 5,000 students attending 35 schools in the Great Plains now have draft units from the Lakota Language Consortium’s Level 3 Textbook
in their hands. The Level 3 curriculum makes the transition from earlier levels that focused on language basics and sounds to comprehension and putting sentences together.
Because Lakota language students are advancing in their abilities to use the language, LLC Textbooks now include the use of story boards-- a sequence of panels that illustrate situations and action. Using storyboards will help students to intuit the conversation and written language and improve overall comprehension.
Not only is the content of LLC Textbooks evolving so is the team of language and education experts that create them. Over the past several months Dr. Kim Campbell began working as part of the team developing the Speak Lakota! Textbook series
. Dr. Campbell is from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and has many years experience working with archaic classical languages and literature, developing language textbooks, and teaching teachers of foreign languages.
In a written interview with Tomas Beauchamp, LLC Communications Associate, Dr. Campbell shares her passion for keeping languages alive and why she became part of the LLC Textbook team.
TB: Dr. Campbell, your expertise is in Romance languages and literature—how did you get interested in the Lakota language?
KC: My expertise is in Romance Languages and Literatures, but I come to the work of language teaching primarily from the point of view of a philologist. My research specialization for many years has been the languages (and literatures) of the twelfth century primarily. These languages are not "French" in fact. I work on Old French, specifically, Anglo-Norman, Picard, Lorrain, Poitevin, Francien, Franco-Italien, some old Provençal and Catalán. My most recent publication (forthcoming) is about the French of England, and the ways in which the terms "Franci" and "Angli" are used to define (and redefine) "Frenchness."
None of these languages are spoken anymore; very few people read them. Fewer still can pronounce them at all -- they don't sound like each other, and they don't sound like modern French either. I have been teaching them for a long time, because many very important stories are told in those old, almost forgotten languages. If the languages are no longer taught, then those stories will be lost; the sense of a people, from the earliest times, would be lost with the stories. So I think it is very important to keep the knowledge of the language alive, and with it, the knowledge of the way of thinking, believing and living in the world that it very different from what it is today.
I have also spent many years teaching teachers of foreign languages. For the last twenty years, it has been my job (and my mission and passion) to work with people who are just beginning their language-teaching careers, although I have also worked with many teachers who have been teaching for many years, through NYU's and Harvard's Schools of Education. I have spent many, many hours thinking and talking about what works in a language class. For me, language, in the larger sense that implies a way of seeing, living and expressing the world, is the most important thing we can teach.
So part of my interest is intellectual: the challenges and questions facing many of the indigenous languages of this continent are similar to questions that arise when working with the medieval languages, and remind me often of the Renaissance -- the period when French was being standardized, and vocabulary words were being discussed, and even invented, for new technologies and concepts. It is for me intriguing to see this "on the ground," with a living language -- to listen to discussions about how (and even to what extent) Lakota should be standardized or made to be in sync with events and things in the world. It brings to life what has always been for me a passionate discussion about the purposes and shape of languages.
Why Lakota? Over the years, I have noticed that most students of language -- other than those in required courses -- have a personal interest as well as an intellectual one. So many of my students in French or Spanish classes cite a loved one, a good friend, a mentor for whom or because of whom they are studying the language. Without recounting the story of my life, let me say that my case is no different, and friends and loved ones -- not the least of whom is my late husband Charlie -- have also inspired me in this direction.
TB: Please explain how you are helping us to develop our Textbooks.
KC: I am currently a beginning student of Lakota, so perhaps it may seem odd that I would be assisting a team working on a textbook to teach that language. However, many years of writing or helping to write exercises for many, many languages, from French and Spanish to Ojibwe, Thai, Celtic, Russian, Hebrew and Japanese, not to mention the medieval languages, have given me a solid experience in techniques of language teaching, which I hope I am putting to good use for the Level 3 Lakota textbook.
Some of the activities I have worked on are story lines for the initial comic strip chapter introduction, as well as stories for longer readings later in the chapters. I have brainstormed extensively with other members of the team regarding grammar and vocabulary activities, and last, I am writing, in Lakota, some review exercises for chapters. And, if I may say so, I am as proud as any of our third graders might be when Jan tells me my spelling is improving!
TB: What about this work have you found the most interesting?
KC: For me, the most interesting part of this work is indeed the thinking, talking and reflecting that goes on in the team and in the community about what language is, and the ways in which language itself shapes the world. Gender markings, for example, are something that often sparks passionate discussion, especially in terms of what this means for women in the world today.
Gender marking exists in French as well; for example, my students are often surprised, even jolted, by the fact that in French, the word for "woman" is the same as the word for "wife." In terms of this Lakota textbook, members of the team and of the community have thought, reflected and debated long and often about how gender could or should be represented, not only in language, but in images as well. I am similarly intrigued by the ways in which the Lakota language frames other aspects of life -- the way time frames are expressed is quite different from the languages I know, and yet sometimes, interesting parallels emerge. For example, the expression of digital time, with its precise metering of minutes and seconds, was something of a quandary -- and yet, while we were discussing this as regards Lakota, I was put in mind of medieval French, which had no need for minutes or even for hours, but rather measured time by the rhythm of Catholic masses instead. To give a last example, as a student of languages in their history, I am always fascinated by etymologies. Lakota is a captivating language in this respect -- the beautiful rendering of "horse" in Lakota a case in point.