One of the most precious assets a culture has is its language. There are roughly 7500 distinct languages spoken around the world today, but nearly half of them are at risk of disappearing for good. A way to preserve dying languages is to boost their visibility—which, thanks to the educational app Duolingo, is now happening with Navajo and Hawaiian, TIME reports.
As of October 8, Indigenous People's Day, Duolingo now offers courses in the two languages. Most languages taught through the free app's bite-sized lessons—like English, Spanish, and Chinese—are widely spoken around the world. A few years, ago Duolingo began experimenting with using its tech to share the world's less popular languages with more speakers. When it launched its Irish language course in 2014, there were roughly 100,000 native Irish speakers on Earth; around 4 million people have been exposed to the language through the app since then.
For its two latest language offerings, Duolingo chose to focus on indigenous languages that have been pushed to the brink of extinction by colonization. Even though Navajo, or Diné, is one of the more popular surviving Native American languages, only around 150,000 people speak it today. The Hawaiian language, Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, has about 1000 native speakers and 8000 people who speak and understand it fluently. Both languages were banned in American schools in recent centuries, which greatly contributed to their declines.
Duolingo's new project is only one example of how technology is being used to preserve and revive ancient languages. In 2013, Aili Keskitalo, president of the Sami Parliament in Norway, launched a social media campaign encouraging people to share messages in Sami using hashtags like #speaksamitome; a few years ago, Aboriginal artist Angelina Joshua produced a video game around the Marra language called My Grandmother’s Lingo.