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Just 15 percent of students can speak native tongue

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 27, 2009) - Alarmed by the "changes" that are about to happen as a result of federalization, the Chamorro Carolinian Language Policy Commission yesterday expressed concern over the additional impact it may bring to the CNMI indigenous languages, Chamorro and Carolinian.

Commission executive director Dave R. Omar disclosed that, based on the last assessment his office conducted in 2003, only 15 percent of students in public schools speak the indigenous languages while the rest use the universal language, English, in and out of their households.

"This assessment was done in 2003 and what we’ve seen was a very alarming rate of 15 percent. Although we’re not ready to pinpoint the ‘changes’ that may happen [to the indigenous languages] due to the federalization, we’re anticipating ‘changes’ will come along with it," he told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Omar said there’s much to be done to prevent the diminished use of local dialects on island.

A second study and assessment is up for discussion, according to the official. However, funding is always a major issue, preventing them from going ahead with this plan.

This time, he said, the commission will explore federal grants to pursue the study.

"This is an important undertaking we want to pursue because this follow-up study will be the basis of our actions" in preventing the lessened use of our indigenous languages, he said.

If the 2003 assessment reflected an alarming "15 percent vs. 85 percent" result, Omar said they are afraid to see much lower results.

"We’re hoping it’s not. Though we feel that we may get even lower numbers, still we’re optimistic that the ‘decline’ is not that obvious compared to the 2003 study," he added.

As part of actions taken to address this concern, the commission and the Public School System have worked together in implementing and expanding the bilingual program in schools, later named the Heritage Studies program.

Offered both at primary and middle schools, Omar said the program is recommended for expansion to high schools and the extension of class instruction on the program.

However, besides funding, they found difficulty in getting instructors for the program.

"Those were some of the factors considered in the past," Omar said.

Saipan Tribune learned that in the ‘90s, heritage studies programs were also offered at Northern Marianas College, providing instructions separately for Chamorro and Carolinian enrollees. As part of the college curriculum then, any student who completes the program gets a three-unit credit.

"Unfortunately, this was also stopped because of the same reasons," Omar said, adding the program was a direct work between PSS and NMC.

He said he dreams of "reviving" the program.

At present, only a television talk show that continues to promote the local languages is in existence.

Coupled with cultural and community programs for children, language conferences and workshops, Omar is optimistic that "improvements and progress" can still be seen on the indigenous languages.

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