New Program Makes Learning Cherokee Easier

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Cherokee is one of the most difficult languages to learn, according to Barbara Duncan, the education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C. But a new language program — “Your Grandmother’s Cherokee” — is changing that.

The program results from the insights of John Standingdeer, Jr., a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he did not grow up speaking Cherokee and found learning it hard.

According to Duncan, long Cherokee words contain as much information as an English sentence. But then Standingdeer discovered patterns within the words, patterns which Duncan says are “like a math equation.”

Since 2006, Standingdeer and Duncan — with computer-programing help from Duncan’s sister — have spent their free time developing the language program. In October 2015, their method was granted a U.S. patent.

“Your Grandmother’s Cherokee” teaches the language not by memorizing the complicated words, but by recognizing the patterns within them, making Cherokee easier to understand and use.

Duncan estimates that only 200 of the 15,000 members of the Eastern Band grew up speaking their tribal language, and all are over 55 years old. She feels an urgency to study this endangered language, which she stresses is “the original language of the Appalachians.”

A symposium will be held May 29 to June 2 at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, to explore using Standingdeer and Duncan’s method to preserve and teach other indigenous North American languages.

The program currently offers an online dictionary and two levels of coursework, with two additional levels expected soon. For more information visit


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  1. Rory on January 17, 2024 at 1:53 pm

    Where do we find the Cherokee Tsalagi translator?

  2. Stanley Wojdyla on September 11, 2022 at 4:18 am

    I’m very big gifted in learning languages this would be my biggest challenge in my life as far as learning another language I used to languages without any books just listening to songs and music I speak three fluent languages Polish American English and german I speak a little bit of Spanish but I decided that I would love to learn Native American language since I live on this Land that belongs to them and always Did and it always will !!!!

  3. emmett on February 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    A language cannot be saved by singing a few songs or having a word printed on a postage stamp(or poster). It cannot even be saved by getting ‘official status’ for it, or getting it taught in schools. It is saved by its use(no matter how imperfect) by its introduction into every walk of life and at every conceivable opportunity until it becomes a natural thing, or no longer laboured or false. It means, in short, a period of struggle and hardship. There is no easy route to the restoration of a language(Lakotiyapi kin el opa).

    Blihe ic’iya yo!

    I think it applies to all native languages.

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