Navajo Language Radio

A new article in the Daily Times dissects the benefits and challenges to operating Navajo language radio stations, some additional points are presented here. Many radios have Native language radio programs or stations, but the 27,000 square mile Navajo reservation in the Southwest United States has several: KNDN (Farmington, NM), AM stations KTNN (Window Rock, AZ), KGAK (Gallup, NM), and the FM station KTDB (Pine HillM NM), in addition to their television station, NNTV 5. Catering to different subcommunities, these channels broadcast news and other affairs in Navajo, in addition to playing both traditional and modern Navajo music, as well as non-Navajo music.

This is a great resource for people trying to learn Navajo. Radio provides one of the most difficult challenges second language instructors face: finding ways to supplement their students’ instructional materials with adequate exposure to fluent discourse. Radio is a particularly excellent source of discourse.


• Free, as long as you have a radio or computer.

• Draws interest in the language among young people, who often listen to radio for entertainment.

• Allows one to see how the language is used in multiple domains of life; news, entertainment, humor, etc.

• Forces language maintenance to ensue; fluent speakers must adapt Navajo to enable discussion of contemporary life matters.

The radio is more essential to the reservation Navajo than it is in mainstream American culture. For many Navajo, the radio is their principle source of contact with the outside world; they can’t afford to waste the gas driving to get a newspaper everyday, and a little under half don’t have electricity, which means no television sets or telephones. Some don’t even speak English, or just speak a little.

Related, the Navajo can use radio in ways restricted to the general public. For instance, any local can drop by and make an important announcement, such as requesting a ride home from someone after going to the hospital. Radio is a vital part of the community.

The AM radio stations overlap in some areas, in other areas only one radio can be heard. KTNN has a particularly large facility that can broadcast outside the reservation to California and the Pacific at night, and into major cities around the four corners area like Phoenix and Albuquerque during the day. People from all over the world listen to the radio programs online, including Navajo emigrants.

Note that broadcasting in Navajo also presents some challenges.


• Navajo has some very long words. In some cases a single Navajo word conveys just about as much information as a longer English sentence, but in many cases it is more time efficient to use English terminology. Everything in the radio biz is timed, and little seconds here and there add up to a lot.

• Navajo has multiple dialects. The pronunciation of one term – or the particular term used – of a radio crew in one part of Navajo country can be obscure to another community, and can bear political implications.

• Although there are a few Navajo monolinguals, more people on the reservation speak only English than are fluent in Navajo, especially among the younger generation.

Yet, these challenges are neutralized by using English as an intermediary. Bilingual programming reaches a wider audience, plus, the dual language approach gives Navajo students feedback as to whether or not they misinterpreted any content. Navajo is a very hard language for English speakers to acquire in adulthood, thus it necessitates practice, practice, practice.

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4 Responses to “Navajo Language Radio”

  1. [...] programs in indigenous languages like Ma:lamalama for Hawaiians and various for the Navajo are definitely a great way for Native language learners to gain extra exposure to their tongues? [...]

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