Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fino' Chamorro gi Koleho

When I took Chamorro at the University of Guam I was fortunate in that for CM101 and CM102 I had the same professor, Peter Onedera. As I moved from one to the next there was a smooth transition, we picked up in the second semester easily from where we had left off the semester before. Other students however had different experiences. They would take one professor for CM101 and another for CM102 and often times they would find that two faculty from the same institution would start and end up at completely different for their courses. Even now as I teach Chamorro language at the University of Guam I have noticed these gaps. Sometimes they are minor, but sometimes they can be serious. Part of this problem is the lack of any standardized textbooks that instructors can use to help maintain a continuity between various levels of Chamorro.

At present instructors use a variety of materials in order to teach their courses. The books created by Donald Topping, most famous for co-authoring a Chamorro-English Dictionary are helpful. His books Spoken Chamorro and Chamorro Reference Grammar provide a good understanding of the structure of the Chamorro language, but can be overly linguistic in their analysis and difficult for students to follow. Peter Onedera compiled his materials from his years of teaching to create a Gihan Leksion Fino’ Chamoru, which contains worksheets, vocabulary lists and grammar lessons. Most instructors at the college level create their own handouts and design their own curriculum borrowing from sources like Ondera, Topping as well as materials that the Guam Department of Education has produced.

This lack of materials and also discontinuity between levels of Chamorro led Dr. Faye Untalan to apply for an Administration of Native Americans (ANA) Grant last year. Her project was funded under the title “I Ma’adahen Fino’ Chamorro gi Koleho: The Preservation of the Chamorro Language at the Post-Secondary Level.” I assisted in the writing of this grant and I also work as its project coordinator.

For those unfamiliar with Dr. Untalan she received her doctorate in Social Welfare from UCLA in 1979 and was one of the first Chamorro women to do so. As a professor at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa she also made history by creating the first ever Chamorro language classes outside of the Marianas Islands. Although she has retired from teaching in Hawai’i her former TA continues to teach four different levels of Chamorro to students there.

At present there are only four institutions of higher learning in the world that offer Chamorro language courses regularly: The University of Guam, Guam Community College, Northern Marianas College and the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. This project aims to bring representatives of these institutions together to draft a standardized curriculum for four semesters of college level Chamorro language instruction (101, 102, 201 and 202). These representatives are known as the Curriculum Development Committee.

A panel of learned experts and elders will oversee this project. They are known as I Manfåyi. The Curriculum Development Committee will put together drafts and meet on a regular basis, but it will be the Manfayi, who are long time educators, civic and political leaders who will ultimately determine whether or not what is created is appropriate.

The Curriculum Development Committee meets on a quarterly basis and our next meet will take place this month. Since late last year the representatives of each college have been drafting and working on their curriculum. The four levels of Chamorro were divided up so that each college would be responsible for creating the initial draft for a different semester. When we meet later this month we will present our drafts and discuss how best to incorporate them all together.  

The goal is that during the second year of the grant, the proposed curriculum will be piloted at each of the participating institutions and by the end of the third year, a textbook for each course can be finalized. The hope for this textbook is not only that it will be used by these four institutions but it can also be something that groups of Chamorros anywhere in the world can use. According to Dr. Untalan, “This curriculum and this textbook will be a resource for Chamorros anywhere in the world, whether it be Guam, San Diego or Killeen Texas, to use to create language learning opportunities in Chamorro communities everywhere. These materials will be created by those who have dedicated their lives to preserving the Chamorro language. The goal of the project is to make Chamorro language teaching easier and to increase fluency in Chamorro here in the Marianas, and throughout the diaspora, who want to learn Chamorro but may not have the resources they need.”

I am excited to be a part of this project and look forward to what we can produce over the next 2 ½ years.

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