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Navajo Language Immersion Classes

Full day Navajo Language Immersion Classes are being offered at Eva B. Stokely Elementary School at the kindergartner level, and 19 students were enrolled by their parents. According to the school’s principle, Mark Madsen, they will work their way up to more grades, possibly by next year. Note that this would require hiring more Navajo speaking teachers, and textbooks in Navajo if they truly wanted full immersion. Ironically, two of the Navajo teachers involved in this effort, Marlena Shepard and Lucy Charley, attended boarding schools where speaking Navajo was prohibited.

Although Navajo has the most speakers of any Native langauge in the US, less than half of young people use it. Navajo is very hard for English speakers to learn past birth, because it contains a lot of sounds that are foreign to English (e.g. ejectives, contrastive tones and vowel length), as well as complex morphology. Many parents are concerned that if their children try to speak English and Navajo at the same time it will confuse them. Studies suggest this is in fact the case for a brief period, but overall immersion education is not a hinderment to their ability to learn English, and may in fact help them academically.

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mathias

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