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Secwepemc language computer games aim to engage youth and pique public's curiosity

'Languages hold keys, ways of interpreting the land and a number of different of perspectives'
Screen capture of two of the seven games. (via Chief Atahm School)

Computer games are often considered a detriment to education, but a school in Chase has released a few games with the goal of educating kids in the local language.

The Chief Atahm School has created the series of games with an Irish company focusing on early language skills in Secwepemc. The games, which will be used as part of the school's immersion program, help teach pronunciation, sentence structure and other skills.

Dr. Kathryn Michel, who works at the school and was central to the development of the games, says the games (and school) is part of a process to show that Secwepemc is still a viable and functioning language.

"I think one of the big things is, we (Chief Atahm School), fly under the radar," she says. "We've always had a web presence; the games give us an opportunity to showcase that language."

Chief Atahm School opened in the early '90s. Originally, a project was set up mimicking a Maori initiative in New Zealand where young children and elders spent time together to help pass language and culture on. It evolved into a full elementary immersion school running to Grade 4.

Michel ended up going to UBC for her doctorate and ended up learning under one of the people who started the original program in New Zealand. One of the focuses in her studies included a study into language revitalization.

Preservation and revitalization of less common languages have become a growing movement globally, from the Irish company Michel is working with, which is preserving Irish languages through similar games, to Edge of the Knife, a film shot entirely in the Haida language.

"I think the biggest thing is there's an imminent threat to losing the languages," Michel says. "Languages hold keys, ways of interpreting the land and a number of different of perspectives."

The games are already online and open to the public to see, though Michel notes no one is going to be able to learn Secwepemc just through games. Part of the reason is to allow the children at the school to see them and to critique them. She points out that because the kids are native speakers of the language, they're quick to catch mistakes.

"They're a tougher audience," she says.

They'll be used in classrooms starting this week. She also hopes that now that the games are online and available for anyone, it'll draw more attention from adults.

"You're not going to learn a lot in a game situation, but it's enough to pique people's interest.

"I think it's more of the sharing that there is a language," she says. "An opportunity to see it."

Michel is planning to expand the games as well, with two or three new ones each year, and increase the ability to edit them locally, instead of having to constantly run edits through Ireland.