Getting Your Family to Use the Cherokee Language at Home

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Photo Credit: Our State Magazine

How can we increase use of the Cherokee language at home and especially with our young people? Below are some tips for creating intentional time for using the Cherokee language at home with our families.

The Cherokee language is currently categorized as endangered according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Additionally, the Tri-Council of the Cherokee People (consisting of the EBCI, Cherokee Nation, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians) has proclaimed that the language is in a state of emergency. There are less than 210 fluent speakers of the Kituwah (gi-doo-ah) dialect spoken in North Carolina.

Tip #1: Learn ONE thing at a time!  

It is easy to overwhelm yourself when trying to learn a new language, and Cherokee is no different. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t getting anywhere when you realize just how much you need to learn to be fluent. Don’t think about how much you haven’t learned… just focus on learning ONE thing at a time. That might be food words, phrases like ‘What are you doing?’, or numbers and colors. Once your family has mastered one thing, move on to another!

For ideas for small lessons you can start learning with your family, ONE at a time, please check out the YouTube videos from our 4-H Family Cultural Circle.

Tip #2: Replace English words with Cherokee words!

Once your family is learning different words and phrases in Cherokee, the best way to get them to ‘stick’ is to replace the English words with Cherokee. If you are just learning food words, this might mean your family starts saying ‘I want a-ma’ instead of ‘I want water.’  Or if you have learned the phrases for ‘want’ but not food words saying ‘water a-gwa-du-li’ instead of I want water.’  It will be a mixture of English and Cherokee at first, but as your family keeps learning more, you’ll be able to add more Cherokee into your daily life!

Tip #3: Create kid-friendly labels in Cherokee for objects around your house!

While learning words, colors, shapes, and numbers… have your kids create fun labels for those items in Cherokee and then put them in your house and car. Every time you use that item, say the word in Cherokee for a great way to reinforce words for common items you use a lot.

Tip #4: Use your Cherokee language resources wisely!

There are a lot of great FREE resources available to learn, read, and listen to the Kituwah dialect of the Cherokee language.

  1. Shiyo app (available on the App Store and Google Play) – This app includes basic words and phrases in the Cherokee language, including being able to hear them spoken! This is a great place to start your family at a beginner level.
  2. The Kituwah Education and Preservation Program with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has prepared many beginner and intermediate level resources on their website, along with recordings. This website also includes resources on learning the Cherokee syllabary.
  3. If you received a blue Cherokee language book earlier this year, the recordings for the text in that book are located at this website. If you are not an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, you can purchase a book from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian for $40.