Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finding a New Purpose in the Chamorro Language

Finding new purpose in Chamorro language

THERE continues to be noticeable reverberation surrounding GDOE’s Chamorro Language Program and its ineffectiveness as a mandate for preserving the island’s native tongue.The absence of any supporting evidence, particularly in the form of data compiled through a formal Chamorro language assessment tool that substantiates Chamorro proficiency among public school students, has brought forth irrational policy-making based on what seems on the surface as personal beliefs and posturing to cultural correctness.Before attempts at passing additional laws which are economically and strategically flawed, policy-makers and legislators alike must first consider two limiting factors that sway in the face of the Chamorro language dilemma: language dominance and language purpose.

First, if it has not yet become apparent to GDOE’s leadership, English is and has been the dominant language on Guam for the last 40 years.This will not change if the response at preserving the Chamorro language continues to come as irrational and illogical judgments favoring expansion of Chamorro curriculum within GDOE. Any passion of loyalty and obligation to Chamorro heritage should not overshadow a greater sense of strategic responsibility and planning, and the fact that Chamorro speakers will continue to be an endangered minority on Guam. Passion without common sense is as meaningless as “boyoing” one’s head half clean and wrapping around a “saude” in this modern age.

Second, although there is prevailing dominance of the English language on Guam, its strength can be diluted by first ensuring that the Chamorro language evolves to be more purposeful and rewarding in daily life throughout Guam society. Presently for the majority of students in GDOE, the sole purpose for learning Chamorro is wholly for compliance rather than for a need or urgency. More specifically, the Chamorro language fails at having personal relevance outside of its historical significance and curricular mandate for a majority of Guamanians. Therefore, new approaches that incorporate a greater purpose for Chamorro language use must be realized through bold changes in public policy.

In an attempt at developing social purpose in the use of the Chamorro language, educational leaders should first establish a graduation requirement stating, “No student may graduate from a Guam Public High School without first passing a Chamorro Proficiency Exam in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.” Within this scenario, the responsibility for learning Chamorro shifts from the institution of learning to the home, and ultimately society as a whole. Imagine how much more beneficial it would be if this concept were extended to those about to graduate from the University of Guam or the Guam Community College. Another purposeful shift can also occur if a government-wide “Chamorro Speaking Only” policy were implemented, where everyone’s livelihood would suddenly become dependent on comprehending and speaking Chamorro. And, what if GDOE could take the millions it presently spends on teaching Chamorro and instead develop a monthly Chamorro-speaking contest, where $20,000 in prizes could be given out to the most proficient Chamorro speakers? Wouldn’t there be tremendous savings within GDOE and at the same time an establishment of genuine purpose and reward that all Guamanians can participate in?

The English poet, philosopher and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “Language is the armory of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests.” Mai’la pago ya ta u’sa i tohm’to’ta para ta na fo’na, gof la’la, yan kinalamten i lingua’hita para todu i tao’tao Guahan. Ti i eskuelan publiku ha ni mu’na fo’fona i lina’la I koturan Chamoru. Prisisu na ta na mas metgot i plan’un linguahita, ni sina mas u mu’na sao’nao todu i rasas siha. O’la’ mohon ya sina ta taka este na punto!

Elwin Champaco Quitano,

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Keep the Chamorro Language Alive

Keep the Chamorro Language Alive
by Mina Sablan
The Pacific Daily News

Just imagine this: If you were the last Chamorro speaker and you hold the experiences and knowledge of thousands of years of life here in Guam and the Mariana Islands ... and there is no one that understands who and what you carry in your inner self.

The Chamorro language is a world language given to the Chamorro people by our creator. It is our responsibility to keep the Chamorro language alive.

"Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth -- many of them not yet recorded -- may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain." (National Geographic).

Public Law 31-45 will help to address the need to revive the native Chamorro language. However, if the Chamorro language is to survive and not become extinct, transformation has to happen primarily within the native Chamorro population, collectively. Many have concentrated on protecting cultural perpetuation. However, language has been dormant within the native Chamorro population itself.

We, as Chamorro people, need to look within ourselves and decide whether we truly want to breathe life back into our Chamorro language. Public laws help, but collective, collaborative and committed actions within our communities will transform the dormant language. We cannot depend solely on the Chamorro teachers within our school system to educate our children. Language cannot live in books, documentaries and classrooms alone. Language is a living and breathing thing, it must be spoken in everyday experiences and settings in order for it to stay alive.

We can start to do certain things:

•In order for the Chamorro language to survive, we as Chamorro people must recognize that we have to take full responsibility for its survival. We must help each other to breathe life into the language and give it the prestige it once had in our islands. It requires concerted efforts and an abundance of dedicated labor to bring it back to its prestigious places and spaces within our communities. We have to believe that it is important; otherwise, it will become extinct.

•We have to recognize that learning the Chamorro language is not about making money, but about keeping a world language alive for generations to come, keeping knowledge of navigation, plants, animals and ocean life that have been perpetuated for thousands of years.

•We have to focus our full attention as to how we can bring back the Chamorro language within our families, clans and communities, collectively and collaboratively. There was so much pain, hurt and language loss in the past. Many have experienced trauma due to the language policies of the past. We can help each other going forward as we breathe life back into the Chamorro language and regain our self-identity as Chamorro peoples.

•We have to choose to be proactive and contribute in positive ways to breathe life back into our Chamorro language, apart from the classrooms.

•We have to incorporate qualitative and quantitative time and increase the familial and public spaces where we communicate in our native Chamorro language.

•The Chamorro and the English languages are the official languages of Guam, but Chamorro is hardly spoken in public settings. It is only when we consciously as Chamorro people take ownership and choose to speak our language as adults and teach our children that it is crucial for survival and self-identity of the Chamorro people, that we will be able to ensure that our children also will speak it.

•We who speak the language must help those who want to learn the language with enduring patience and perseverance. We who know the language must speak it when we are with other Chamorros who speak the language. For us who know the language, but are dormant and sleeping within our inner selves, let us make a conscious decision whether we will partake in the Chamorro language revival by awakening it in ourselves. For those who want to learn the Chamorro language, be persistent and don't give up; you are contributing to the revival and perpetuation of the Chamorro language.

•Reviving the Chamorro language is a huge undertaking; negative criticism is not welcome, only positive recommendations, actions and contributions from all who want to help, Chamorro or not.

•There are dialectic differences within the Chamorro language, let us honor those differences.

Let us retrieve the Chamorro language knowledge we have in us, sharpen it and speak it into the atmosphere in Guam and the Mariana Islands. Let us reclaim and awaken our beautiful Chamorro language and culture in our daily experiences; through positive actions. It truly has to start with us that know the language.

Mina Sablan is a resident of Chalan Pago.

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Chamorro Classes at GDOE

Extra classes may cost $11M: DOE works to implement additional Chamorro courses

Meryl Dillman
The Pacific Daily News

Public middle and high school students must take additional Chamorro language and culture classes by school year 2014-2015 under Guam law, raising concerns about cost to the Department of Education and the future of college-bound students.

The law could add millions of dollars to the Guam Department of Education's annual budget to pay for extra teachers, equipment, materials and, possibly, new facilities, DOE officials acknowledged.

High school students face the possibility of having fewer electives to take.

Debra Duenas, who has a son in middle school, is concerned about the possible reduction in electives to make room for the additional Chamorro lessons.

"Electives are needed to round out your education," said Duenas, a librarian at Juan Q. San Miguel Elementary School.

More courses

Currently, public school students are required to take Chamorro class in every year of elementary school, one year in middle school and one year in high school.

Public Law 31-45, which was Bill 95-31 written by Sen. Mana Silva Taijeron, states that seventh-graders should be included by school year 2013-2014, and eighth graders by the following school year. It also states ninth-graders in high school will take mandatory Chamorro course work by school year 2013-2014 and 10th-graders are to be included to the program the next school year.

Additional costs

Ronald Laguana, administrator for Guam DOE's Chamorro Studies Division, said it's been estimated that it could cost $11 million a year to pay for full implementation of the new requirements.

To implement the requirements, the education agency may have to add roughly 50 more teachers, which means more money to pay their salaries and benefits. It also will mean more equipment, supplies and facilities, said Jimmy Teria, a Chamorro language and culture specialist in the Chamorro Studies Division. The money would need to be appropriated to DOE by the Guam Legislature, as part of the department's budget, over the course of the implementation of the new requirements.

Cutting electives

Right now, students need 24 credits to graduate from high school -- six credits per year over four years.
The implementation of the new requirements still is being worked on, so it's unclear how adding an additional year of Chamorro language and culture will be handled, but a committee has been formed to address the implementation of the new requirements, education officials said.

Joseph Sanchez, acting deputy superintendent of Curriculum and Instructional Improvement, said the removal of a credit to accommodate the new Chamorro class requirements is a likely option. It most likely will be an elective that is removed, he said, because he can't imagine anyone wanting to remove a core course.

Sanchez said the community has to be aware of the fact that some things will have to be removed from the curriculum in order to accommodate the new requirements.

Taijeron said it never was the intention to overshadow or downplay the importance of other subject matters, and there are other options.

"Instead of cutting classes, there are other ways to incorporate the language and culture into those classes," she said.

For example, she said, Chamorro dancing could be incorporated into a physical education class or Chamorro music and art could be added to art classes. This could create a dual-credit course.

"There are many ideas, and it really doesn't have to mean cutting back anywhere in the Department of Education," she said. "Of course, it will have an impact on the curriculum, but it doesn't mean other classes will have to suffer."


Taijeron said she introduced the legislation because she grew up in an era on Guam when language and culture weren't a focus in school.

"We have an opportunity to offer this to our children, and there's such a passion for it," she said.

She also said she feels it's her duty as an elected official to do her part to be sure the children of Guam have an opportunity to learn the culture and language.

When a public hearing was held on the bill, there was overwhelming support, Taijeron said. The law was passed unanimously.

Laguana said the law is a positive move because people thrive on language and culture. He also said he thinks the program will be funded.

"I'm sure the Legislature wouldn't pass bills and have it non-funded," he said. "When the time comes, it will be funded."


If the goal is to teach children and the community about the Chamorro language and culture, more work needs to be done than just in the schools, Duenas said.

She said teaching language is more of a grassroots and community issue and it needs to be spoken and taught at home and in the community for it truly to be effective.

Duenas said her son, who has been taking Chamorro classes in school and is half Chamorro, doesn't really speak the language.

Duenas has lived on Guam her entire adult life, but isn't Chamorro and doesn't speak the language, so she can't incorporate it at home and immerse her son in the language and culture, she said.