Online Platform Teaches Dying Languages To Save Them From Extinction

By Holly Brockwell on at

There are heaps of ways to learn languages online, from intensive tutored courses to fun cartoony apps. You can even learn made-up languages, like Dothraki, Klingon and Esperanto - a fact that must be somewhat frustrating to Inky Gibbens, founder of the Tribalingual platform for dying languages.

Gibbens is half Buryat - a subgroup of the Mongols - and set up the platform when she realised that the Buryat language of her maternal grandparents is classified as endangered by UNESCO. A language dies every two weeks according to the UN, with half of the current 7,000 languages expected to be gone by the turn of the century.

She explains:

The only way I could help save the language and culture of my ancestors was to learn it myself. I quickly realised though just how hard it was to find methods of learning endangered languages online or with teachers, and the Tribalingual platform was born as the solution. Tribalingual is an online language learning platform that teaches rare and endangered languages in an effort to combat this global extinction.

It might seem pointless fighting against the inevitable extinction of ancient languages, and some people consider it a good thing that the world is learning to communicate with the same vocabulary. But as the Sapir Whorf hypothesis - yes, the one from Arrival -  explains, language codifies cultures and ideas, and those ways of thinking are lost when the words cease to exist. Imagine a world where everyone speaks like a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Aaargh.

Tribalingual's languages include Mongolian (as spoken by Ghengis Khan, and taught by Gibbens herself); Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas; and Ainu, spoken by a marginalised group of indigenous Japanese people.

The lessons cost a bit more than standard online courses: £299 for a 10-week course including a Skype session with a speaker every week (£199 for students). But considering how hard it'd be to find someone to teach you these languages any other way - especially given that many of the populations who speak them aren't exactly what you'd call internet-savvy - it seems pretty reasonable. The UK-based startup, founded last year, is also supported by the University of Cambridge.

As Gibbens - herself fluent in four languages - puts it:

We want to see a future where diversity triumphs over uniformity, where colour breaks the monotony and unique languages will continue to live and thrive. We are changing the future of endangered languages.

Doesn't seem quite so cool learning Klingon now, eh?

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