Native languages accessible by online means

Ryan Winn

If you’ve recently spent time on the College of Menominee Nation’s Facebook page, you’ve likely seen the Menominee word, kocēqtah. In English, the term translates to “try it.”

In partnership with Menominiyou, CMN is posting a new video in its “Let’s All Speak the Language” series biweekly throughout its fall semester. The goal is for every viewer to watch the language instructions and try speaking Menominee aloud.

The series offers an accessible model for first-time speakers. It shares classroom conversation words and phrases in both Menominee and English, thereby offering educators and students a chance to learn practical language they can use in an educational setting. Beginning with demonstrations on how to greet one’s classmates and moving through lessons on volunteering answers, posing questions, and sharing compliments, the first five videos in the series are live at the time of this publication.

Piloted in both communication and theater courses this past summer, the eight-video series offered students a chance to hear and speak phrases that complimented their classroom instruction. In the oral communication course, students were asked to review one video and then demonstrate their own self-introduction using the language the video modeled. In theater production, learners were asked to use another video to describe their compliments and critiques of various actors’ performances.

The 23 students in the summer pilot courses anonymously shared their thoughts on the series. One wrote: “The people who are in the video do a great job pronouncing the words and sentences. They also show you how to spell them. The language in all the videos can be used just about anywhere and not just in the classroom.”

Another stated: “I personally think it was a great idea … Since we are on the Menominee Reservation, it means a lot to learn our language while attending college classes. It makes me excited to take a Menominee language course in the future.”

The summer students’ responses also offered some rich data. Of those surveyed, 65% admitted to rewatching the videos after class and 78% responded that they plan to use the language they learned beyond the classroom setting. Additionally, 15 out of the 23 students expressed that they would “be interested in taking a course that shared a similar video series using a tribal language other than Menominee.”

This fall, CMN is piloting the same video series in one of its history courses through a partnership with Speak Mahican. Students enrolled in American History from 1865 to Present review the laments of William Dick, the last first-language speaker the Mohican nation has produced. In 1931, Dick spoke to The Rhinelander Daily News about his native tongue, sharing: “I am very proud of it, very, very proud. Nobody knows it now, nobody except me. All the others are dead.”

CMN students are also told about how Speak Mahican has worked with a linguist to turn century-old anthropologists’ documentations into spoken words. Every other week, students in the CMN course view a new video in the Mahican “Let’s All Speak the Language” series, thereby allowing them to sprinkle the language William Dick prided himself on when engaging in their course discussions.

Currently, CMN’s Menominee version of the “Let’s All Speak the Language” series is only available through Facebook, but by the spring they will also be housed on the college’s website. At that time, the Mahican series will debut on social media, thereby allowing the public to practice speaking that language as well.

CMN President Christopher Caldwell took part in an introductory video encouraging students who viewed the various series. In the recording, the enrolled Menominee tribal member said: “I am glad that people are on their language journeys. I wish them the best of luck on that journey, and let’s continue to work together to bring our languages back to prominence.”

In other words, kocēqtah.

Ryan Winn teaches communications, English and theater at the College of Menominee Nation. Visit for more information about the school.