Chapter 11: Indian Language Education
By James Crawford

Endangered Languages
Need for Bilingual Education
Special Case of LEP
Early Title VII Programs
Native Literacy
Teacher Training
Self-Determination at Rough Rock
Reversing Language Shift
Tribal Language Policies
Native American Languages Act
Promising Program Models

Approximately 175 indigenous languages are still spoken in the United States – rivaling the number of immigrant languages – but fewer than one-quarter of these are still being learned by children. Without intergenerational transmission, they are considered moribund, or destined to die out in the near future. As many as 45 Native American tongues, spoken primarily by elders in their 70s and 80s, were expected to disappear in the 1990s; at least 100 others face the prospect of extinction in the next two or three generations. If current trends continue, only 20 will remain alive by 2050, according to Michael Krauss of the Alaska Native Language Center. Even now, relatively few speakers of any indigenous language are school-age children.

In this context, the need for bilingual education among American Indians and Alaska Natives is sometimes questioned. Many who would not dispute the importance of special language programs for newly arrived Cambodians or Salvadorans assume that, since most Native American students are dominant in English when they start school, bilingual instruction is unwarranted. Why waste time teaching them in tribal languages when they already speak English? This assumption stems from a failure to recognize what is special about these students.

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