A free language course, teaching the Indigenous language Ojibwe, is now available online.

The program was launched by the Kingston Indigenous Language Nest (KILN), along with University of Toronto and Baycrest, and stands as an effort to revitalize the transmission of Indigenous language for newer generations of Indigenous communities.

Constance Carriere-Prill, the executive director of KILN, says this is an important step towards maintaining Indigenous tradition.

“Due to the aging of people who speak Ojibwe as a first language, as well as the interruption of transmission of the language from generation to generation due to colonization and the residential school system, language revitalization efforts are highly time sensitive,” Carriere-Prill said in a news release. “This language course will help address some of these challenges in a low-barrier, accessible format.”

The Ojibwe language is traditionally spoken in Indigenous communities along the Great Lakes in Canada and the U.S. Long-term survival of the language depends on ongoing, accessible education on Indigenous cultures.

According to 2021 data released by Statistics Canada, approximately 237,420 Indigenous people in Canada reported they could speak an Indigenous language well enough to carry a conversation. This number is a 4.3 per cent decrease from the number of Indigenous-language speakers in 2016.

Statistics Canada also reported an 8.7 per cent decline in 2021 of those who comfortably converse using Ojibway languages in the Prairie provinces compared to 2016. In Ontario, the data shows a 6.5 per cent decrease in 2021 compared to 2016.

Programs like this online course are an effort to mitigate the further decline of Indigenous-language speakers.

The course includes extensive notes on vocabulary and grammar, prompted audio dialogs, and digital flashcards – all of which is accessible on a smart phone, tablet or computer.

Course developer Jed Meltzer, Baycrest’s Canada research chair in interventional cognitive neuroscience, and a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, says that building a strong vocabulary is foundational first step in this course.

“This project arose from our belief that acquiring a strong base of vocabulary is the most important element of learning a new language,” he said in the release.

“It may not be sufficient without other kinds of learning, but it is necessary, and no language learner can proceed to high levels of proficiency without spending many hours memorizing vocabulary.”

The research team who developed this program hopes that other language educators will utilize ideas from the online course structure, both for the restoration of Ojibwe and for other Indigenous languages in the near future.