niciativa para la


ecuperación del

















The UDB textbook project


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The Nawat language recovery initiative:


v      The recovery plan

v      Nawat goes to school

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v      Linguistic work on Nawat

v      Other objectives




Nawat goes to school:

the Universidad Don Bosco Nawat textbook project


üIn the 2004 school year (which begins in January in El Salvador), a new program got underway in which three hundred children in four different schools have started to learn Nawat. The schools are located in the area where Nawat is still spoken, or else was still spoken when the children’s parents or grandparents were growing up. Public and private schools are included in this pilot program, as are both urban and rural schools.


üExperienced teachers already at work in their respective schools were recently taught Nawat and learnt a set of interactive, communicative language teaching techniques in a special 80-hour training program aimed at getting them ready to start teaching the Nawat language this year. This took place with the approval and support of their schools, which agreed to come into the program and introduce Nawat into the schools’ curriculum. Nawat is taught three hours a week and treated like any other school subject.


üInside the classroom, the objective is for the children to learn to communicate in their ancestral language. The teachers pursue this objective through the methods they have been trained in, following a specially-developed syllabus embodied in a new series of textbooks that the program is producing. The name of the series is Ne Nawat, Tutaketzalis (NNT), which means ‘Nawat, Our Language’. The book for Level 1 was written in 2003 for use in 2004, and further materials are planned for production at the rhythm required by the project’s development over five years. By the time these children finish primary school, they will know Nawat better than most children have done for one or two generations, offering new hope for the language’s survival and recovery.


It is not suggested that the project outlined here will be sufficient to bring about single-handed the recovery of the Nawat language. In isolation, this project only addresses systematically one aspect of language recovery, although an essential aspect: transmission of the language to children. Language recovery involves more than language teaching: it must be a social process involving the strengthening of the language at all levels, redistributing and expanding the language’s social, communicative and symbolic functions, and progressively reasserting the language’s presence in the community, public and individual awareness of and identification with their language, and the practical usefulness and moral desirability of knowing and using the language. Despite Nawat’s precarious situation at present these goals may indeed be attainable – we shall only be able to ascertain to what degree through empirical experience – provided that some form of language planning is applied in their pursuit. What is clear is that the process must actively involve present-day Nawat speakers and their social and community networks, must result in increased use of and more positive attitudes towards the language among the population (which includes adults of working age as well as children and elderly speakers), and will require ‘corpus planning’ (linguistic research and codification, didactic publications, production of oral and written texts, etc.). The textbook project alone is not in a position to meet all such needs, but can and should contribute to, support and cooperate with efforts in these areas.


Support for the textbook project


(left to right) Alan King,  Paula López,

Monica Ward, Genaro Ramírez

The plan for the program, the NNT textbooks, their syllabus and the methodology they reflect, the teacher training courses in Nawat language and teaching techniques and the pilot school program are all part of a project initiated in 2003 by the Universidad Don Bosco (UDB) of El Salvador and developed under the guidance and direction of Alan King, a foreign linguist who has previously specialised in the Basque language and is well acquainted with the dynamics of minority language movements in various parts of the world. The project was endorsed by Jorge Lemus (Universidad Don Bosco) and Monica Ward (Dublin City University), both of whom have been involved in Nawat studies for several years. The project also benefits from support from a government agency, CONCULTURA. The pilot school program is being developed in coordination with local education authorities.


(left to right) Alan King,  Wener Hernández, Genaro Ramírez

Alan King was in charge of all aspects of the project’s work during 2003, when the basic groundwork was laid and most of the component activities set in motion. It was agreed that this project needs to depend on teamwork and should involve members of the communities affected and native language speakers. These goals have to be pursued through voluntary participation. Additional activities were undertaken by the project as relevant parts of the overall language recovery plan (details below). The achievements of the project’s first year would not have been possible without assistance from several key individuals such as Genaro Ramírez and Werner Hernández.


The project’s plans for its second year (2004) include continuation of the areas of work mentioned above plus some new ones: coordination, assessment and evaluation of the newly inaugurated Nawat language pilot school program, development of a further in-service teacher training program, revision and re-edition of the first versions of new materials in the NNT series, and the establishment of a project office (TIT) to serve as a focus for these activities and as a general resource for the Nawat language movement.


The broadening of the project’s activity and goals poses a need for a corresponding growth in human and economic resources. The project now depends on the coordinated work of a larger group of specialised assistants to help with textbook production, training, coordination of the school program, as well as related areas of language study and project development. The staff required is available but the funds to pay the salaries of assistants and cover the project’s other budgetary needs are not all being provided by the University at present. To meet those needs and keep this important project on track, it will be necessary to fill these gaps in resources.


The project’s achievements in 2003


·        Planning and groundwork for the textbook program:


Prior to the present project, Nawat linguistics was an underdeveloped area and Nawat language teaching was almost virgin territory. Very few people were interested in the language, and those few were mainly working in isolation and largely unaware of each other. Native Nawat speakers were mostly illiterate and lacking in resources and know-how to develop effective programs. Three general areas of overall preparation therefore had to be planned and implemented before even the preliminaries of textbook production could be commenced: organisation of human resources, linguistic work, and methodological preparation. The first half of 2003 was largely given over to these areas of activity:


-         Organisational preparation: Creation and coordination of a network of people willing to participate in the project and support it.


-         Linguistic preparation: Collection and organisation of existing language documentation, coordination with speakers and students of the language, synthesis of all available linguistic information and basic research, together with codification proposals (orthographic standardisation, grammatical systematisation etc.).


-         Methodological preparation: Identification and development of an appropriate methodological basis for the overall design of the project and the didactic approach to be taught and reflected in the materials produced, as well as a production chain for the authoring, graphic design, editing, printing and distribution of the texts.


·        Textbook production:


After several months of organisational, linguistic and methodological preparation, production of the first text began. Having produced and discussed an initial prototype, materials were written for the first student’s book and workbook (Level 1), and passed on to a team at the School of Graphic Design of the Universidad Don Bosco led by Claudia Hidalgo, whose job it is to supply the artwork and edit a printer-ready version. CONCULTURA has offered to cover the printing costs through its Service of Publications. Authoring of the Level 1 Teacher’s Guide and the Level 2 student’s book were also begun.


·        Pilot school program:


With permission from local education authorities, the project approached several schools in selected localities in the territorial division (Departamento) of Sonsonate, in the heart of the Pipil region, explaining the project and inviting them to enter a pilot program introducing Nawat into the school curriculum from age eight (Second Grade) in 2004. A number of schools accepted with enthusiasm and were asked to select one or more teachers to attend a special training program and begin teaching Nawat from the beginning of the 2004 school year.


Nawat teachers in the pilot programme

Dora Lúe

La Nueva Esperanza School


Raúl Tula

Mario Calvo Marroquín Private School


Rosa de Domínguez

Pavlo Sexto Catholic School


Sandra Orellana de Caridad

Pavlo Sexto Catholic School



Nawat pilot programme schools

Mario Calvo School


La Nueva Esperanza School



·        Teacher training program:


The first stage of the Nawat teacher training program was an intensive 80-hour course in November and December 2003, taught by Alan King and Werner Hernández with contributions by Jorge Lemus, attended by ten trainees, mostly teachers from the pilot schools. The chief objectives of the course were practical Nawat language at the beginning level, teaching techniques and a presentation of the Level 1 textbook material. The course produced satisfactory results: participating teachers received a Level 1 Nawat language certificate and were ready to start teaching Nawat in their schools. The course was also attended by Genaro Ramírez, a native Nawat speaker and experienced Nawat teacher, who approved of the language content and teaching methods taught.

Teacher training session in Itzalku


·        Additional activities:


-         University course: The project organised and taught a 24-hour university course called “Introduction to Nawat”, which was attended by eighteen students, including several Pipils. The course content included historical and sociocultural background of the Nawat language and the Pipil people, a linguistic introduction and practical language classes. A textbook, ‘Iniciación al Náhuat’, was specially developed for this course. The course was taught over a six-week period, the first five weeks at the Universidad Don Bosco and the sixth week in the Nawat-speaking village of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. Students coming from the Pipil area to attend the course received grants covering their tuition, textbook and travel expenses. Attendance was good and the course was qualified as a success by students and organisers.

‘Introduction to Nawat’ university course in Witzapan


-         Project reports: Several informative documents were produced by the project during 2003 to report on the project’s aims, needs and progress.


The project’s goals for 2004


·        Textbook production:


Completion of remaining Level 1 materials, production of materials for Levels 2 and 3, and revision of the preliminary Level 1 publications following their use in the pilot school program. Development of objectives and syllabus for Level 3 prior to authoring.


·        Pilot school program:


Continual assessment, support and evaluation of the pilot school program, maintaining contact with the teachers and following closely the development of Nawat classes at their schools.


·        Expansion of school program:


Recruitment of further schools and localities into the program in the post-pilot stage to begin in 2005.


·        Teacher training program:


-         Further in-service training for project teachers: Continued language instruction and general training for Nawat teachers working in the pilot school project this year.


-         New initial training course: Repetition of the initial teacher training course for new Nawat teachers entering the program in the 2005 school year.


·        Additional activities:


-         Project office (TIT): Creation of an office in the region of the pilot school project to carry on project work and attend to the general needs of the project and work related to its goals.


-         University course: Possible repetition and extension of the university course “Introduction to Nawat”. Decision on this will depend on demand, university policy and the availability of resources.


-         Project reports: Production of informative documents to report on the project’s aims, needs and progress in 2004.




© 2004 Alan R. King, Monica Ward and IRIN.