I attended the Denaakk’e Immersion class held this month in Anchorage. I was not sure exactly what to expect and I thought I would be overwhelmed quickly. I can tell you that I am not overwhelmed. The instructors were patient and check in with everyone to see how we were doing. If we got overwhelmed, we took a break or did a fun activity.
My daughter, Ermelina, and I learned together. She is picking it up quickly and has helped me along the way. The class was open to all ages and ranges of language knowledge. It was great to interact with the elders and to learn along with the kids.
Learning the words is the biggest challenge for Erma. She enjoys the asking and answering a question activity. This is the “Where are your keys?” teaching method.
Each day, we reviewed the agenda and signed up to lead activities. Language Instructor Susan “K’etsoo” Paskvan encouraged participants to take ownership of the agenda and activities. We can use the same techniques to hold language nights later on. A part of learning the language is to be able to practice. The instructors are not always going to be there, and we need to pass it on.
Teach what you want to learn. -Carter Rodriquez
I was impressed with the structure of the class and the thought they put into the teaching methods. In addition to the the “Where are your keys?” teaching method, they also used storytelling to teach us some new verbs and nouns. The story is called, Tobaan Estuh. Participants performed the story in a play on the last day.
We also went for walks around the Alaska Native Heritage Center and asked questions and learned words. We had to ask the questions in Denaakk’e. This is a great method to remember words. We also had a lot of repetition with each exercise. Once you ‘got it’, you were encouraged to teach others.
Another key method was learning American Sign Language. Signing helped us remember the words. It also helped us to stay immersed in Denaakk’e. We tried to speak Denaakk’e as much as we could.
We played fun games with Denaakk’e words mixed in. Like the Simon Says game, we played Setsoo Says (Grandma Says). We also learned some Denaakk’e songs. It was great to hear the stories behind the songs. Esther “Nedosdegheełno” McCarty explained why songs are made and where they come from.
I enjoyed learning and practicing how to introduce yourself in Denaakk’e. I wrote my Alaska Native introduction on my “About” page. Someday, I would like to learn how to do the same thing in Denaak’e. The cool thing is that some participants learned they were related.
I’m filled up with a newfound knowledge and respect for the Denaakk’e. it was great to connect with people who are also interested in learning the language. It’s a lifelong challenge, but I have some tools to help me along the way.
Ana basee’ to Eliza Jones, Esther McCarty, Susan Paskvan, Dewey Hoffman and Dawn Dinwoodie! A big thanks to the Alaska Native Heritage Center for hosting and organizing the class. Thank you to Doyon, Limited for sponsoring the program!