These Apps Will Teach You Mexico’s Indigenous Languages

Phone apps
Phone apps | © Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr
Stephen Woodman

There as many as 281 distinct indigenous languages spoken in Mexico today, according to Ethnologue, a publication that provides a linguistic profile of the world. Many of these languages are endangered, and it can be a real challenge for outsiders to find ways of learning them. Yet Kernaia, an indigenous language collective, has developed a platform designed to make it easier for people to start learning these languages, offering a range of apps that will teach learners the basics.

Náhuatl

With an estimated 1.5 million speakers, Náhuatl is the most commonly spoken indigenous language in Mexico. Yet despite its prevalence in rural Mexico, there are still few courses or resources available for learning it. The digital app “Vamos a Aprender Náhuatl” (Let’s Learn Náhuatl) offers learners the chance to approach the language as spoken in the town of Acatlán, in the southern state of Guerrero. In a self-taught manner, you can learn the numbers, greetings, animals, body parts, fruits, plants, and some verbs. The app—which is in Spanish and Náhuatl—also features quizzes to help users retain their lessons.

Vamos a Aprender Náhuatl was developed as a collaboration between indigenous communities, artists, and developers.

Indigenous Mexican man

Kernaia has also developed an app for learning Mixtec, a branch of indigenous languages spoken by more than half a million people. The app allows learners to navigate through 20 language lessons which teach greetings, numbers and colors. The lessons are all set in the Santa Inés de Zaragoza community in the southern state of Oaxaca, and the app teaches people about the culture and traditions of the community.

Oaxacan design

Purépecha

The Kernaia project says that its mission is to create “an ecosystem of digital content for indigenous languages.” To move toward this goal, the organization has created a similar app for Purépecha, a language spoken by nearly 200,000 people in the western state of Michoacán.

After the passing of Mexico’s indigenous language law in 2000, languages including Purépecha were given official status equal with Spanish in the areas where it is spoken. Digital learning aids such as those offered by Kernaia are vital to heightening awareness of both the Purépecha language and the culture of the Purépecha people, who often experience poverty and marginalization.

“The purpose of this app is to build a bridge towards culture and the Purépecha language,” Kernaia’s website reads.

As well as teaching words related to daily activities, Kernaia’s website says that the app offers a journey into “the space where they take place: the family, the community, the kitchen, the field, the celebrations, and other elements that represent the town’s identity and enrich our cultural diversity.”

Kernaia’s apps are available for download on iOS and Android.

Purépecha mural
landscape with balloons floating in the air

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