UKâlalautta Inuttitut! (Let’s Speak Inuktitut!)
Growing up in Nain Silpa Suarak heard Inuktitut almost everywhere. Speaking her language at home was the norm for most of her childhood, but as she grew older her language began to fade and English soon took over. It wasn’t until she had graduated college and started a family of her own did she begin to understand what the language meant to her.
Looking for a way to practice her Inuktitut while sharing what she learned with others wanting to learn the language, Suarak began UKâlalautta Inuttitut! (Let’s Speak Inuktitut!). The daily lessons, which are posted daily on Facebook and Twitter, have the phrases written in Inuktitut and English. For each lesson Suarak records an audio pronunciation guide reading the Inuktitut phrase at normal speed, then again breaking the phrase down syllable by syllable, and then finally repeating the phrase again at normal speed.
“I realized that Inuktitut is important and I needed to become fluent so that my kids could hear it the way I heard it growing up,” says Suarak, who is now the Language Program Coordinator for the Nunatsiavut Government.
She had seen other Inuktitut word-of-the-day lessons from other Inuit regions on social media and realized there was an opportunity to start something similar for Nunatsiavut.
“It just felt like it was needed because a lot of people are used to learning by speaking, by words,” explains Suarak, “and my goal was to help people increase their fluency in full sentences. So going from word-of-the-day to sentences of the day, it’s evolving.”
By working with fluent speakers in the Nunatsiavut translations department and with Inuktitut teachers Suarak says that the lessons she’s preparing are not only giving her lots of practice, but they are also improving her confidence in speaking her language.
“I like finding out some words and phrases that I don’t know because I get to ask for help from the interpreters and translators,” says Suarak. “Getting them to help me out with the lesson is part of my own learning process.”
Not only is Suarak improving, but she says she is honoured to help connect other learners with the knowledge of fluent Inuktitut speakers.
“With these lessons I’m learning too,” she says with excitement. “I get to be the connection from fluent speakers to those who want to learn. I was wondering in the past how could I make this connection. So this was a really good way because our fluent speakers hardly use computers or technology and we have the youth here and people in the communities who want to learn, so they can use this technology. We have this project - this connection - that we can use daily.”
The language lessons are tailored for Nunatsiavut, Suarak says that she tries to choose words that will fit the seasons and the time of year.
“It is pointless if we’re not going to use the words people use [in their daily lives],” says Suarak. “So it will never be something about trains or rockets or city stuff. If we teach words and phrases that don’t apply to peoples’ lives, it would be pretty useless and it wouldn’t stick. If you learn something you’re already involved in and interested in you’ll have a better understanding; it’ll be a better way to learn Inuktitut.”
UKâlalautta Inuttitut! is designed to meet the needs of Nunatsiavummiut and requests and suggestions can be made to Suarak. Some of the words and phrases have come in as suggestions from people looking to make sure that words are pronounced properly and spelled right. The effort to keep UKâlalautta Inuttitut! as locally driven as possible is not lost on Nunatsiavummiut, with positive feedback coming in.
“I love how the lessons are related to our everyday lives. So right now it’s Spring and there’s a lot about seal hunting,” says 18-year-old Megan Dicker of Nain. “It’s things we would like to say but don’t know how to say. So the translations are there and it’s just really helpful to have them translated from things we like to say.”
Dicker says that she always felt that there was something in her life that was missing that she couldn’t identify. It wasn’t until she visited the 2016 Inuit Studies Conference in St. John’s and heard the pride of other Inuktitut speakers did she realize that it was her language that was missing. She says she checks UKâlalautta Inuttitut! everyday and is learning her language now and participates in language discussion group.
“When I get to use the lessons in real life it makes me feel good,” Dicker says with pride. “It makes me feel powerful. Like I’ll say something to one of my friends and ask them if they know what it means. Then we get all excited and start discussing it.”
If you are interested in learning Inuktitut with UKâlalautta Inuttitut! like the Tradition & Transition Facebook page (www.facebook.com/traditionandtransition) or follow on twitter @unikkaatuak to receive daily language lessons every morning.