The most up-to-the-minute language-instruction technology,
used in the space program, may come to the rescue of some
venerable old languages and cultures.

Native American educators are looking at technology from NASA’s
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, in their efforts to preserve
and teach their peoples’ languages. Johnson’s Language Education
Center, one of the largest and most advanced of its kind, teaches
astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and others English, Russian and

Vernon Finley and Johnny Arlee, language instructors at Salish
Kootenai College on the Flathead Indian Reservation at Pablo, in
northwestern Montana, recently visited the language center.

Arlee teaches the Salish Cultural Leadership Program at the
college. The program’s goal is to pass cultural leadership on to
future generations by developing leaders to replace the elders.
“Most who still speak the Salish language are elders,” said Arlee,
who at 59 is among the youngest of the fewer than 100 who still
speak their native Salish language.

Finley, 46, teaches Kootenai. “While there have been language
preservation efforts, they have not produced many fluent
speakers,” said Finley. “Unfortunately, the Kootenai are even
fewer in number than the Salish, with fewer elders to speak and
teach the language.” Both cultures view language fluency as a
vital part of the development of future leaders.

The teachers’ visit to Johnson verified that they are moving in
the right direction. Although they are concerned that they must
produce many of their own materials, the center provides models
that they can use in developing their tools.

“I believe the two visitors have seen technology and methodology
that will help them teach and preserve their languages. It was a
very productive visit, ” said Tony Vanchu, director of the
Language Education Center.

NASA’s continuing efforts to transfer benefits of space-related
research and development to the private sector are coordinated by
Johnson’s Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization.