Most people use Duolingo, the popular language learning app, to learn widely-used languages such as French, Spanish, or Chinese, but now you can learn two languages very few others can speak. In an effort to preserve indigenous languages that are nearing extinction by exposing them to a wider audience, Duolingo just added Hawaii’s ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi language, and Diné, the Navajo language, to its list of learnable languages.
While Hawaiian is an official language of Hawaii, only two percent of the population can actually speak it (it was once banned). Duolingo partnered with Hawaiian culture-based schools to build the Hawaiian lessons. Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, Hawaiian language expert, said in a statement, “Our language is our foundation, but it is also the language of this land, and everyone, Hawaiian or not, can connect to the ʻāina more deeply through it.”
Due to colonial policies instituted by the US government, the Diné language of the Navajo has suffered a similar decline. Diné speakers were forced to use English, until their native language slowly fell out of use. Now, the remaining speakers are trying to revive it. Utah’s San Juan School District, in particular, has partnered with Duolingo to help develop Diné lessons for the app. Although endangered, Diné is still the most widely spoken indigenous language in the US, and learning to speak it could put an interesting twist on your next visit to the Southwest.
Some of the world’s other most endangered languages include Resígaro, an old Peruvian language; Ainu, a near-extinct Japanese tongue; and Patwin, a Native American language from California. Many of these have fewer than 10 speakers worldwide.