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Redmond residents stress importance of mother languages through technology

Caitlin Walsh chats with, left, Roy Boney, Cherokee Language Program manager, and Dr. Neil Morton, Cherokee Nation Education Services adviser and Sequoyah fellow, in Oklahoma. - Courtesy of Alfred Hellstern
Caitlin Walsh chats with, left, Roy Boney, Cherokee Language Program manager, and Dr. Neil Morton, Cherokee Nation Education Services adviser and Sequoyah fellow, in Oklahoma.
— image credit: Courtesy of Alfred Hellstern

During a recent trip to Tulsa, Okla., Redmond resident Caitilin Walsh asked a room full of high school students how many of them spoke another language besides English.

Only a few students raised their hands. When she asked how many of them were scared to answer the question, many more students raised their hands.

Walsh, who is the president of the American Translators Association (ATA), said many thought knowing a second language was a strike against them. So while she was there, she worked to stress to the students that she was not judging them.

“It’s a huge asset,” she said. “Many people covet (it). They would love to speak two languages.”

A VIABLE CAREER OPTION

Walsh was in Oklahoma for International Mother Language Day, which was Feb. 21 and promotes awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Her visit was part of a celebration of Microsoft’s Office Online becoming available in the Cherokee language. This was all part of the Redmond tech company’s Local Language Program, which provides people access to technology in a familiar language while respecting linguistic and cultural distinctions.

While in Tulsa — which is a little more than an hour away from the Cherokee Nation’s capital of Tahlequah, Okla. — Walsh met a number of translators from the tribe.

“They were really warm people,” she said.

Walsh’s visit with students while in Oklahoma was to raise awareness about what they could do with their language skills if they wish to further their studies. She said many times when students pursue foreign languages in college, the only job option they think is available is to become a foreign-language teacher. Walsh said another option is to become a translator or interpreter, jobs that are growing in demand by leaps and bounds.

“(It) is a very viable career option,” she said.

Walsh acknowledged that most students probably won’t choose to follow this path but at least now, the ones she spoke with know about this possibility.

WHERE CULTURE MEETS TECHNOLOGY

Walsh’s opportunity to meet with members of the Cherokee Nation came through her husband, Alfred Hellstern, who is a senior international projects manager for Microsoft and oversees the company’s efforts to translate its Office programs into other languages.

He said Cherokee was just one of 105 languages — outside of English — that were recently made available in Office Online. Hellstern added that Cherokee is the only American Indian language that has been translated at the moment as other native languages typically do not really have writing systems.

While working with the Cherokee translators, Hellstern said he and his team kept in close contact with weekly phone calls for updates so everyone was up to date on the project’s latest developments.

Like Walsh, Hellstern stressed the importance of raising awareness about interpreting and translating job opportunities to students.

“It’s important to let the kids know...you can do stuff with it,” he said about being fluent in a second language.

LANGUAGE IS CULTURE

Roy Boney, Cherokee Language Program manager for the Cherokee Nation, said preserving a language is important because it goes hand in hand with preserving a culture.

“The Cherokee language is one of the most important aspects of who we are as a tribe, and many elements of our culture are contained in our language,” he said. “Our language offers more than communication. It transmits cultural knowledge and a mode of thinking that is uniquely Cherokee. To lose our language would mean a huge loss of part of our heritage, and the goal of the Cherokee Nation Language Program is to ensure our language lives on for future generations.”

Walsh agreed that it is important to preserve languages.

“The heritage of a culture is embedded in language,” she said.

She pointed out that while different cultures may have a word that translates to mean similar concepts, that is often where the similarities end. For example, while the word “breakfast” refers to the morning meal a person eats, what that looks like can be different from culture to culture. In the United States, breakfast could mean cereal, whereas in Mexico, it could mean tortillas or miso soup in Japan, Walsh said.

“It needs a culture to have a meaning,” she said about words.

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