Why You Should Intern for WAYK! by Julia


1) You’ll meet cool people.

    If you want to get to know really awesome people, working on language revitalization projects is a great place to meet them.  

    Together with my fellow intern Will Monroe, I spent this past summer in Kodiak, Alaska working with elders and learners of Kodiak Alutiiq.  I was blown away by the warmth, capability, creativity and humor of the team of individuals who dedicated their time to learning and teaching Alutiiq.  They were incredibly supportive and welcoming at every stage, from first getting my bearings on the island, to teaching me how to bathe in a banya and clean fresh-caught salmon (in Alutiiq!), to saying goodbye at the end of the summer.  

2) You’ll gain social, organizational and linguistic skills.

    WAYK challenges you and lets you shine.  You’ll get to polish your chops in the following arenas, at a bare minimum:

•Explaining what WAYK is and generating enthusiasm

    Hone your elevator pitch skills, your charisma and your handshake! When you become a WAYK intern, you’ll get invaluable experience representing an organization greater than yourself.  If you’re shy, prepare to step out of your shell.  The supermarket, a local high school, a restaurant… everywhere you go is an opportunity to reach out to potential learners.

•Creating and running rides

    Because WAYK is collaborative and ever-growing, you get to exercise your creativity while helping a particular language and enhancing the game.  Coming up with new rides for Alutiiq was one of the highlights of my summer; you get to think tactically about gameplay while infusing rides with a sense of humor and playfulness.  For instance, Will and I created a ride called “Ministry of Silly Walks” in which players each demonstrate an individualized wacky walk to illustrate the words gwaten (“like this”) and tawaten (“like that”).  It was fun to brainstorm, and even more fun to see people bring it to life!

•Handing it off: teaching how to teach

    One of the coolest parts of a WAYK internship is that it doesn’t end when you leave.  You’ll teach as many people as possible to do what you’ve learned to do– to create and run WAYK rides.  And then they teach more people.  And then the people they teach teach more people.  And then the people they teach teach more people… and before long, you have a lot of people learning and speaking the language.  Which is really cool, and good news for that language.

…And as an added bonus, you might find yourself fluent in a rare, fascinating language by the end of the summer!

3) You’ll see first-hand why language revitalization matters.

    A language is a cultural treasure trove.  It can provide keys to whole different ways of perceiving and conceptualizing the world.  It contains fascinating structures that can tell us more about how languages in general work.  For these reasons, I had a vague idea going into the summer that revitalizing languages mattered in a larger sense.  

    But it didn’t really hit home to me until I met the people to whom it mattered: the elders who wanted to hear their children and grandchildren speak to them in Alutiiq, and the members of the younger generation who wanted to learn.  Because ultimately, revitalizing a language is about serving a community– a community of past and future speakers who want to sustain a cultural heritage.  

    To me, this constitutes the single most compelling reason to care about the future of an endangered language: because other people care too, and they care a lot.

Thanks everyone for a great summer!

Contact evan@whereareyourkeys.org for more info on upcoming events and opportunities.

Sorry Charlie – Learned Helplessness


From Jason Slanga:

Today as part of our professional development, we were presented with the following video:

While watching this I got to think about Sorry Charlie.  When we throw someone a Sorry Charlie, or when we speak to quickly, we’re throwing them an impossible task.  This is the kind of thing that makes people Full, and unable to continue.
The WAYK rules are a way for students to identify impossible tasks, and make the teacher address them.  If they don’t know that Sorry Charlie is an option, they will assume that the fault is theirs, that they are incapable of learning.  We’ve all heard people who say “I tried learning a language in high school/college, but I just wasn’t very good at it.”  Clearly this can’t be true.  I think of all the times I’ve been to Rome, and seen people selling knick-knacks on the street.  These people often speak three or four languages.  They’re not the sort of people we might think of as highly learned (but I might challenge us to question that assumption), and yet they’ve mastered a skill which people in our country, with wealth and educational resources have deemed for themselves impossible.
Teaching kids about Sorry Charlie challenges the notion of the Impossible Task.  It makes them hold us accountable, and over time we can be trained not to inadvertently teach helplessness.

Julia Stiles: A preview of Kodiak Alutiiq




This past week, I was lucky to have the opportunity to fly up to Alaska and meet the community with which Will and I will be working over the summer. Throughout the flurry of introductions, everyone was incredibly kind and welcoming. I was struck by the palpable energy and enthusiasm of both the language learners and the elders; it was inspiring to see so many people contributing their creativity and personal time to the various revitalization efforts.




I spent most of my time running through existing rides with Alisha, Candace and Michael, then hunting more Alutiiq and helping invent and streamline more rides. It was fun getting the hang of collaborative ride-making, which is something of a new skill for me– I’m usually so impatient that I just hunt one thing after another in quick succession, then forget large swathes of it. It was definitely good for me to learn to apply the brakes and teach off what I had learned to someone else. In the process, I learned a bit of Alutiiq, and became quite enamored of its beautiful sound and structure. The most challenging part of this process was not leaning too heavily on my linguistics training. Because I’m studying linguistics at Stanford, it’s really tempting for me to analyze every element of the language as I encounter it– or worse, to look each pattern up in a reference grammar in order to confirm that it works how I suspect it does, which is essentially akin to googling the answers to a half-finished crossword puzzle. I have to remind myself that I’m not here on a linguistic research project per se, but on a quest to find the easiest, most intuitive way of learning and teaching the language. Realistically, the middle school and high school students who will be learning Alutiiq will not have any background in linguistics. Nor should they need to– if all the set-ups are obvious enough, learning the language should be so natural that they understand each piece of grammar simply from context, usage and its relation to other patterns within Alutiiq. To tailor the rides for this audience, I have to relinquish some of my attachment to linguistic terminology and think of the language from an internal perspective.


Discussing this challenge with Evan led us to coin a new technique: TQ “Nowhere Man”. For anyone who has seen the animated movie The Yellow Submarine, remember the part where the little nowhere man is spinning around in little circles writing footnotes for his umptieth paper while the Beatles are singing to him, cajoling him to get involved with the world?

He’s a real nowhere man/Sitting in his nowhere land/Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Nowhere man, please listen/You don’t know what you’re missing/Nowhere man, the world is at your command…


The main point of this technique is that however you process the language, it is crucial to be able to engage and communicate with other learners in a revitalization setting. It’s all well and good for me to sit on a couch muttering to myself, “Split ergativity? Intransitive– unergative? Or antipassive…”, but that’s not really helping anyone else. If instead I can find a way to set up and prove what I’m hypothesizing, it will not only aid others who are trying to get a handle on the language, but it may also clarify my own thinking and prevent me from leaping to conclusions. To summarize TQ “Nowhere man”: Be sure you’re not so caught up in your own head that you miss the rockstars around you.


Another new thought that came out of this past week was the idea of experimental techniques for teaching younger kids to language hunt. Evan and I were wondering whether middle school-age students could get the hang of hunting, and if so, how it would be best to introduce it in a fun, approachable way. I personally love hunting, as everyone I bothered this last week will be able to attest. It makes me deeply happy to elicit new pieces of Alutiiq using dramatic facial expressions and funny scenarios, then jigsaw them together into my evolving understanding of the language. But how to convey that same hunger for language to young learners? My instinct is to make it as much of a game as possible. With that in mind, I suggested to Evan that we might start from a modified version of charades, with the following simple rules:


1. No English.


2. Superpowers: the Hunter gets to tell the Huntee to….


•Rewind (go back in the conversation so the Hunter can get a word or pattern that went by too fast, or alter the game in a new way)


•Slow Down


•Speed Up


Each superpower may be signaled with a handsign, optionally accompanied with a funny sound effect.


We could introduce the game, get everyone comfortable with it, then encourage them to play it in any language in their free time– Spanish, Tagalog, anything they want. The middle schoolers could then hunt Alutiiq in any number of settings, from an after-school Girls’ Club with Candace to partner tutoring with high school students to gatherings with elders. By the time they are enrolled in an Alutiiq language class, they will already have the skillset to elicit the language they need, and they will be in the proactive, engaged mindset of advocating for their own learning. I’m truly excited to test this idea and others this summer as I work with Will to support the Alutiiq learners and teachers in the revitalization process. For several years, it has been my dream to work in language revitalization; I could not ask for a more friendly, dynamic and intelligent learning community with whom to embark on this dream. I learned so much from everyone in the past week alone, and I can only imagine how much more I will learn and grow in the course of this ten-week adventure. So, to all the Alutiiq learners and teachers (and especially to Alisha and the rest of my host family)– Quyanaasinaq!


Koyukon Language Training Media Coverage

Here’s a little piece of local media coverage of a WAYK workshop in Anchorage, Alaska:


Will Monroe: Summer Intern

Cama’i, everyone! My name’s Will, and I’m the newest addition to the Where Are Your Keys intern crowd. I’m in Kodiak with Julia, working with the Alutiiq language community.

This is my first time spending an entire summer on a WAYK project, but I’ve actually been working with Evan for a few years, since shortly after David Edwards introduced the game to me in my sophomore year at Stanford.

The circumstances of my discovery of the game are very fitting, I think: I was at a dinner for a Stanford program called Splash, which recruits volunteer teachers (mostly college students) to teach short classes on eclectic topics to middle schoolers and high schoolers. I was one of about a dozen teachers sitting at the table where David would give a demo of Where Are Your Keys in Mandarin Chinese that would get me immediately hooked on the game.

The reason I find this an especially appropriate introduction to WAYK is that WAYK puts a special emphasis on creating teachers. TQ: “Teach a Teacher” was one of the techniques that David threw in that demo, and it was a perfect move to convince a table full of teachers that WAYK was worth trying.

Where Are Your Keys creates a culture of teaching. Teachers in WAYK are both exalted and commonplace. Playing Where Are Your Keys instills in learners an appreciation for the art and challenges of teaching, but it does this by making sure that every person who plays the game gets the chance to try her own hand at teaching, no matter how inexperienced she may be. Teaching is an art that requires a lot of practice, and in WAYK each learner has the opportunity to practice teaching at every moment while playing the game.

On top of that, TQ: “Teach a Teacher” means that once a person understands how to teach language, she also has a responsibility to teach others how to teach language. In language, there are rules and strategies that people use to communicate effectively, but many people—in fact, most—can fluently employ dozens of these strategies without consciously realizing that they are using them. So it is for teaching. An effective teacher can feel intuitively which techniques might successfully embed a bit of language in a student’s mind, and which will glide over the student’s head without making an impact or (even worse) confuse the student further.

Knowing precisely what these techniques are, however, requires a lot of introspection and experimentation, and knowing how to show them to others requires double the amount of practice needed to simply use them. I’ve been teaching since I tutored classmates in algebra in high school, and over the past few years I have developed an intuition for languages and language teaching; now I need to organize my intuition, show it to others, and convince them to become teachers too. As I learn Alutiiq and how to teach it, I will be striving to make the list of Alutiiq teachers in Kodiak constantly grow. By the end of the summer, I want to be able to proclaim with confidence the “Teach a Teacher” credo: I am a Language Teacher Maker.

Stephen Printup—Chinuk Wawa Blogpost

My name is Stephen and I was introduced to Chinuk Wawa and the Where Are Your Keys method about 2 years ago. I am a student at Portland State with Sky, Melissa, Alina, Stevie and have had some lessons with Evan. Although, I originally intended to simply satisfy my university language requirement with a native language, I have found the whole WAYK system very fun. Enough that I find myself practicing the language even when I am not speaking it with others. Speaking a different language makes me think in new ways and it feels good to improve over time and be a part of something that offers a completely new perspective on life.

One of my favorite parts of learning this new language is the need to pay attention to the intonation. It requires people to be much more emphatic in their speech and the theatrics needed to learn are captivating. Sometimes, props are required to learn the language and I have found myself watching my mentor pick up a table or walk around to clarify the meaning of a word. It’s like a game of charades and if you get what they are trying to convey, then you unlock a new level of the language.

All of the facets of the language were not originally evident. However, it is interesting to see, over time, the actual mechanics of the language and the different connotations the words have. It made me aware of how easily it can be to misunderstand someone talking in a different language, yet alone someone talking from a different location using a different dialect. It is really interesting because not all the words are spoken with an absolute stance, yet the inflection makes them absolute. The words are a reflection of deep societal values and I think discovering these values is what has been most appealing in my pursuit of learning this new language.

One of my favorite aspects of the WAYKs program is that I am able to learn a new language anywhere. In fact, the whole system provides a tool for interaction, not necessarily for the typical pursuit of profit, but simply to talk and interact with others. I enjoy my time learning the language because this type of interaction is lacking so much in today’s caffeinated society. Also, because it doesn’t take any expensive tools or books to do, it’s easy to strike up a session pretty much anywhere and at any time. My biggest hurdle is just being patient with myself, because I am the type of person that wants to open a book and learn as much as I can as quick as I can. However, I can’t do this with Chinuk Wawa because the words don’t translate perfectly. I need to wait until I am sure I know the word, its various meanings and where it fits into a sentence. I still have a ways to go, but I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved with a project that offers so much value for such little effort.

What “Where Are Your Keys?” Did for Me.


Gayla Pedersen

After spending 5 weeks with Evan, while he was working with my language community, the opportunity came up. Evan asked me if I would like to go with him to the Unangax Language workshop in Anchorage. So I asked him “Well what do you think I will gain from it?” He replied “Hard to say”. So I let nature take its course and low and behold, all of a sudden there was a clear spot in my schedule. I checked my Airline miles and there were plenty. I received word from a cousin she would be in town and would get us a room. And so it was.

The first day we spent at the Alaska Language summit. I was introduced to countless people, teachers, learners and administrators, finding a sense of community, among strangers, through common experience. Evan was asked to do to a presentation, the group was small, but if I had to hand select the group, I could not have done a better job myself. “The gang was all there”. We had less than an hour together, but everyone got something of deep value, including myself.

After that, all the presenters moved to a “station” and we were able to give a different group of people a crash course in WAYK. We ran people through some of the activities that we do with in my language community and gave people a glimpse of the shear capacity and immense complexity that this methodology is capable of, while demonstrating the simplicity and ease in which it can be achieved. Tip of the iceberg. Everyone wanted more.

My second and third day was spent in the Unangax Workshop. The experience brought me through the full gamut of emotions. My gift in the end was perspective. I gained a ton of skills and techniques, was able to hone my teaching style and had plenty of opportunities to observe as well. There were two types of importance that I encountered. The first was seeing that a new community was going to have what my community now has, young speakers talking with Elders, in the language. The second and more personal, was being able to see EXACTLY where my community came from. A chance to look back and see just how far we have come. How we have learned to manage our selves and others. How to facilitate others needs while keeping our own needs met. And above all a renewed sense of purpose.