With as few as 150 fluent Secwepemctsin speakers remaining, most of them over age 65, the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society has come up with software for preserving the language.
Nintendo DSi software that teaches Secwepemctsin to young children is in the final stage of development, said Kathy Manuel, education co-ordinator with the society.
As well, an iPad application expected to be available by Christmas holds even greater promise in preserving the endangered language, she said.
"This one is for everybody," Manuel said on Wednesday while demonstrating technology that will be available through the society and the B.C.-based indigenous languages website FirstVoices.com. "The Nintendo is kid-oriented but this is for everybody."
The software applications not only instruct learners, they serve to archive the language, which is critical as time marches on. Language embodies culture, she noted.
"To learn the language gives them pride," she said. "I think the essence of who the Secwepemc are is in the language. Without it, they are not themselves fully."
Manuel worked with a group of Secwepemc elders to come up with 3,500 individual words and 1,500 phrases for the applications.
"They are our professors," she said. "I think they're all over 70. They were happily playing along just like the kids would."
The Nintendo software is aimed specifically at early learners, said George Kaliszewski, executive director of the society. Learners play along, responding to pictures on the dual-screen, hand-held video players.
The society identified a potential source of funding — $25,000 provided by the province through the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres — and hit upon the idea of developing customized learning software about 18 months ago.
"It sounded like a really neat idea and fortunately the funding agency thought it was a real neat idea, too," he said.
There were a "few hiccups" along the way as they collaborated with Thornton Media Inc., the U.S.-based video-game designer, to develop the language-learning games for Nintendo DSi, he said.
"One of the philosophies we follow is that everybody learns differently. Some learn verbally, others more visually."
Children nowadays are often in the latter category, well versed with gaming technology by their primary school years. The majority of Secwepemctsin learners are under age 19. There are 400 students in School District 73 who study Secwepemctsin.
Once the application is ready, 20 consoles and programmable cartridges will be available for loan from the society to daycares and nurseries.