South Dakota school develops Dakota language app

By Derek Bartos
Marty, South Dakota (AP) September 2012

Members of Marty Indian School are hoping the technology of today can revitalize a piece of their past.

The school on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota recently released an Apple app designed to teach children the Dakota language.

“We looked at how our students learn, and what we found was our younger generations today are learning differently, and they really gravitate toward technology,” said Diane·Merrick, the school’s Dakota language director.

The app is part of the school’s effort to teach more people the Dakota language, which is closely related to the Lakota language and is spoken by the Dakota people of the Sioux tribes.

The language once was prominent in the area, Merrick said, but its use has diminished over the years. Of the more than 10,000 current tribal members, only 40 can speak the language fluently, she said.

“Our language is a beautiful language,” Merrick said. “It is a part of who we are. It is our identity, and it is important to preserve our language any way we can.”

The app, called “Dakota One,” is available for the iPad, iPod and iPhone. It contains a searchable database of more than 700 sound files and images in 25 categories, including animals, numbers, clothing and commands. Some categories also feature photos of Yankton community members.

“Once you’ve been able to look at the different images, you can quiz yourself and record·yourself. You can play it back, and it helps you learn how to pronounce,” Merrick said. “And you can learn at your level because students all learn at different levels.”

The app includes three types of quizzes – listening, speaking and reading – which allows people to learn in the way that is best for them, the language director said.

“Sometimes people learn with their hands, and sometimes people need to see things or hear things, and the app does that for you,” she said.

Merrick said “Dakota One,” which has been tested by several students, will be in full use when school begins following Labor Day. The school also has purchased 40 iPads for its language class to use the new app.

“It seems to be very well received by the students,” she said. “We’re all really excited about it.”

While “Dakota One” will be used mainly in the classroom, Merrick stressed that the app isn’t just for students on the reservation.

“Other people that want to learn the language can listen to it on the road or use it at home,” she said. “Pretty much anybody can use it.”

The app can be downloaded for $9.99 and can be found in the iTunes store by searching “Dakota Language.” All proceeds go to Marty Indian School’s Language Development Fund to further language revitalization and preservation efforts.