An organization teaching community languages

What can we do to connect with the valuable members of our community?

What can we do to connect with the valuable members of our community?

In my city I feel that we don’t do enough to learn from and incorporate our refugee and immigrant populations. Their language, wisdom, and unique cultural point of view could potentially teach us so much, making us some of the most well-informed citizens of the planet. As things work now, however, these communities lose their uniqueness after 1-2 generations of assimilation.  As a community, we need to work harder to preserve this knowledge for our common benefit.

Some organizations get it right, though.  Much to my pleasure, I just learned that the Minnesota Community and Technical College (@MCTCtweets) offers Somali and Oromo classes. Each class has two levels, for six weeks apiece, and a single session lasts for two hours. The teachers are native speakers.  Those of you who know me can probably imagine my excitement. For those of you who don’t, you can see my earlier posts about my dreams for community language learning here and here.  Minneapolis is working to teach the community to learn from its valuable human sources of knowledge and wisdom.

What is Somali?

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area includes about 70,000 Somalis, many of whom still use this as their primary language, though like with other languages, young people use English more and more often as their primary language.  Toronto and London are the only cities with bigger diaspora populations of Somalis.  Somali is a Cushitic language with 17 million speakers worldwide, and holds official status in Somalia, and minority status in Djibouti and Ethiopia

What is Oromo?

Minnesota includes about 30,000 Oromo people, but I cannot find information about the number of actual speakers in the state. (I did find a weekly local radio broadcast.)  Oromo is the Cushitic language with the most number of speakers, around 30 million. It is spoken in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, but does not hold official status in any of those countries. For Ethiopia, Oromo represents the largest ethic group, around 35%. (For comparison, that’s about the same percent as US citizens of German and Irish ethnicity combined according to http://names.mongabay.com/ancestry/ancestry-population.html.) So while they enjoy a large population, they do not control political power as a nation.

Community opportunities

The MCTC is bringing community languages to the broader community. As the Twin Cities become more a hub of East African culture, the school is providing a way for more residents of the city to interact with these fascinating people. I am excited to find out how many students would sign up for such classes and what their motivations for learning these languages. Are they culturally adventurous? Are they working in a field that requires them to speak more of these languages, such as social work or medicine? Are they aspiring polyglots looking for more exotic languages?

Significantly, MCTC does not currently teach one of the most common refugee languages in the Twin Cities: Hmong. One can request courses, so maybe with enough interest such a class might be added to the roster.

Do you have community organizations that teach less-commonly-taught languages but that are common in your community? Which ones? Who is most involved?

Photo credit: Socdaal Photography / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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9 comments
  1. This is great to hear – I run a non-profit organization called Language Hunters that is exactly dedicated to just this! Revitalizing small community languages through all ages learning. You can find more info about us at http://languagehunters.org. It’s so exciting of others pushing for a community-driven approach to language learning, thanks for writing about this.

    • Thanks for letting us know about your organization and the languages you’re working on! I look forward to hearing more about your organization. What sort of response have you been getting? How much do you work outside the PNW?

      • Just saw your reply. Right now we’re focusing on growing an Irish language community in the PNW – every quarter we have an immersion weekend or weeklong camp. There has been good response – we’re growing a little bit every year. Our small staff has traveled all around the U.S., B.C., Nova Scotia, Ireland, Isle of Man, working with Gaelic and Native American languages. It all depends on funding!

  2. It’s great to hear about courses in community languages. I think that it’s a shame when the focus on refugees and other immigrants is on what they have to do to integrate without looking at how others in their adopted country should behave towards them. Like you say, there is so much that different groups of people can learn from each other by showing an interest in each other’s language and culture.

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