Grassroots Indigenous Multimedia announces the launch of their new Ojibwe language learning software, Ojibwemodaa. The software application uses video conversations and engaging games to immerse the user in the Ojibwe language.
Mary Hermes, University of Minnesota professor with years of experience in education, and her husband Kevin Roach, an Ojibwe artist with expertise itribal art and computer graphics, founded the nonprofit organization Grassroots Indigenous Multimedia (GIM) with the mission of developing materials designed to teach Ojibwe and other Native American languages.
GIM began recording videos of conversations between elders at language camps and other venues. For Ojibwe and many other indigenous languages, it is the everyday, conversational language that is least documented but most useful words and phrases for beginning learners. It was their original intention to simply publish the translated and transcribed videos on a website or youtube.
But in the process of applying for grants to support GIM’s work, Mary heard about Transparent Language from Ed McDermott at the U.S. Department of Education. He told them that Transparent had unique language tools and might be willing to let them use these tools to develop Ojibwe materials. Mary quickly contacted Michael Quinlan, CEO of Transparent Language, who offered his enthusiastic support, and a simple idea started growing into something big.
Transparent Language provided software tools and training while GIM collaborated with community members and linguists to create the content. During the three years production, over 45 community members, volunteers, native speakers and language learners came together to make this software. Although the non-profit organized the work and the production, the creative acts of filming, transcribing, and recording were collaborative community efforts.
Ojibwemodaa uses two of Transparent’s software applications to present the Ojibwe language. Before You Know It (Byki) allows users to create their own customized flash card lists. At GIM’s Ojibwe language camps it was a great pleasure for Kevin And Mary to watch participants began putting the words and phrases they were hearing into Byki lists. They would record native speakers and import the sound into Byki, eventually sharing their lists with each other online across vast distances.
Learn Language Now!, a multimedia tool, combines a video immersion environment with grammatically annotated text. It allows users to watch videos of everyday conversations and practice speaking by playing one of the scenario roles. Within the text, they can check the grammar of each word, slow the sound down, and even compare their recorded language with that of native speakers.
Meanwhile, in addition to recording video, compiling software, and editing Byki lists, Nora Livesay of GIM worked carefully to document the largely undocumented grammar of Ojibwe. Learn Language Now! contains a "grammar tree," an algorithm that defines the grammatical meaning of each individual word in the text. Nora’s efforts at developing the grammer tree have been monumental and benefits not only Ojibwemodaa but Ojibwe language learners, teachers, linguists, and scholars across multiple disciplines.
Ojibwemodaa and Byki Ojibwe offer indigenous learners the missing resources, flexibility, and necessary privacy to give them the comfort, confidence, and momentum they need to learn Ojibwe. Immediate positive feedback and a "no failure" approach can help learners begin to feel confident and comfortable learning. They can practice the language in the privacy of their own space. If they make awkward mistakes, nobody will know. They can "eavesdrop" on the recorded video conversations between elders in Ojibwemodaa without an emotional burden on the learner or a time burden on the elder. Elders who agree to be video-recorded can share their language fluency with an unlimited number of learners at multiple points in time. Along with master-apprenticeship and immersion schools, this use of technology has the potential to propel indigenous language learners forward.
The ultimate goal of GIM is to produce language products that are so widely used that indigenous people develop a common speaking base. GIM hopes to see people getting together to study with their software products. As a nonprofit enterprise, GIM is set up to share, for the cost of training, their expertise in using this software with any indigenous nation that finds it useful. GIM has already seen some interest from other indigenous groups and hopes to get much more. Interested parties should contact GIM directly: http://www.grassrootsindigenousmultimedia.org/