Geek Speak: Jared Deck, Sto:lo Shxweli Halq’eméylem Language Program

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Jared Deck is on the front lines of efforts to save endangered First Nations languages in B.C. Through his work at the Sto:lo Nation, he’s involved with FirstVoices, a project of the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council that’s using Internet technology to help preserve and revitalize indigenous languages.

A 34-year-old member of the Tzeachten First Nation who lives in Chilliwack, Deck has worked at the Sto:lo Shxweli Halq’eméylem Language Program for nine years. This past March, the program finished developing nine new Halq’eméylem lessons for the FirstVoices Tutor language-lessons application.

On April 21, the First Peoples’ Council launched the FirstVoices Language Lab. The mobile kit is described as a “stand-alone portable language teaching solution”, containing a laptop server, Wi-Fi antenna, power bar, and set of iPads. The combination of the Tutor and Language Lab is intended to make language learning more accessible in communities with poor or limited Internet access.

The Georgia Straight reached Deck by phone at the Sto:lo Nation office in Chilliwack.

What is the FirstVoices Tutor application used for?

For us, we’re just starting to get into it. I would say it’s basically for going in and creating your own language-based lessons. You’re able to input your own information, your own data. Teachers, they can go in and they’d be able to customize their own lessons.

What is the FirstVoices Language Lab?

It’s like a stand-alone lab. I think you’d get either a bunch of laptops or tablets that have the Tutor installed on it. They would be able to go into communities. You take them into schools and set up this little lab where kids go and work on these lessons all at their own pace.

Who will benefit from this combination of the FirstVoices Tutor and Language Lab?

I would say the teachers and definitely the students. We have a teacher here that travels around from school to school. So this is a pretty small, portable lab that she can take into the schools with her, and then go to it with the students there.

How are FirstVoices language tools helping the Sto:lo Nation to revitalize Halq’eméylem?

I think mainly it’s creating more awareness for communities and the younger kids that are on computers. It’s just the perfect tool for accessing stuff that’s been lost, accessing the language.

What are some of the other efforts your program is involved in to preserve and revitalize the language?

There’s lots. We’re involved in creating resources and documentation. We’ve been documenting the elders since the program’s been open—since ’95. We’re down to one fluent speaker. So working with her as much as we can is definitely a priority. We’ve got dictionaries, storybooks, CD-ROMs, the FirstVoices archive. We have the Elizabeth Herrling collection. We’ve archived it in the Chilliwack archives as well as the Sto:lo archives. It’s a collection of 70 stories of her personal life.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Hui on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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