An Associated Press article reported earlier this year that about 200 Native American languages are spoken in the US and Canada. Many of these need a revival, something to engage younger speakers. This is where Kara Thornton, and her husband Don, of Thornton Media, come in. “Imagine how it would feel if your children or your grandkids didn’t speak your language, then you would understand how important language is for these indigenous communities,” says the 38-year-old, who, together with Don — who comes from a Cherokee lineage — flies out to tribes, record native speakers and programme their language into customised iPhone and iPad language-learning apps. Tech giant Apple even showcased their Inuvialuktun app (tailored for the Inuvialuit people) in a video at its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year.
Thornton notes the similarities between the Native American and Asian cultures. “When elders speak, you don’t speak. I can understand that, and that’s why the elders know that I respect them and they trust me with their language and materials,” says the native Singaporean. Already, the Thorntons have worked with more than 170 indigenous groups in North America and plan to create more interactive tools to teach both under-represented and major languages across the globe.