Innovation in Language Learning

Edition 16

Accepted Abstracts

Teaching an Alaskan Indigenous Language

Hishinlai’ Peter, University of Alaska Fairbanks (United States)


Gwich’in, an Athabascan language, is one of twenty Indigenous languages spoken in Alaska. Almost every one of Alaska’s Indigenous languages are considered to be endangered, meaning that hardly any children are learning their ancestral language (Eberhard, Simons, & Fennig, 2021). In addition, like many commonly taught languages worldwide, such as Spanish, there are no language specific learning materials for many Indigenous languages (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, 2021). Through experience and education in second language acquisition, the author has not only learned her ancestral language as a second language, but has also created curricula, objectives, language lessons, and activities in order to teach adults at the university level. One of the best ways to teach an Indigenous language to adults, and others, is to incorporate facets of the culture, which includes cultural norms such as humor and engage the students through high expectations (Sikorski, 2008). Engaging students through high expectations requires the facilitator to be creative through the use of immersion that does not intimidate the students, and providing students with their thoughts about learning a second language (Lightbown & Spada, 2013). What are obstacles about learning an Indigenous language? What can they do as language learners to overcome these obstacles? This presentation will focus on some language teaching strategies that help relax adult language learners, and can subsequently be used for worldwide language teaching of any language.

Keywords: Gwich’in, endangered languages, less commonly taught languages, second language acquisition, language learning myths.


  • Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (2021). Less commonly taught languages (LCTL). Developing classroom materials for less commonly taught languages. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. Online version:
  • Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (Eds.), 2021. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-fourth edition. Dallas, TX: SIL International. Online version:
  • Lightbown, P. M. & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.
  • Sikorski, H. “K. R.” (2008). Classroom culture and Indigenous classrooms. Unpublished master’s thesis. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Fairbanks. United States.

Back to the list

Reserved area

Media Partners:

Pixel - Via Luigi Lanzi 12 - 50134 Firenze (FI) - VAT IT 05118710481
    Copyright © 2023 - All rights reserved

Privacy Policy