Chambers (2015). Language Nests as an Emergent Global Phenomenon.

Chambers, N. A. (2015). Language Nests as an Emergent Global Phenomenon: Diverse Approaches to Program Development and Delivery. The International Journal of Holistic Early Learning and Development, 1, 25–38.

“Language nests are early language learning programs where young children, from infancy to five years of age, are fully immersed in an Indigenous language. Since the 1980s, language nest programs have been developed and delivered in Indigenous communities all over the world. In this article I highlight the diversity of approaches to language nest program development and delivery by exploring the experiences of the Samoans in the Pacific Islands, Mohawk peoples in Kahnawà:ke in Canada, the Māori in New Zealand, the Hawai’ians, the Seneca in the United States, and the Sámi in Norway and Finland.” (p 26)

“The language nests reviewed in this paper are therefore primarily concerned with the renewal of endangered languages.” (p 26)

“In keeping with Indigenous methodologies, I begin by briefly locating myself in relationship to the research (Absolon & Willett, 2007).” (p 26)”

“This literature review demonstrates that approaches to language nest program development and delivery are shaped by many factors such as: Indigenous language status within the community, population size, availability of fluent speakers and early childhood educators, state legislation and funding, and access to materials and resources in the target language.” (p 26)

[“A Brief History of Language Nests as an Emergent Global Phenomenon” …]

“In Canada, the first language nest appears to have been developed by Dorothy Lazore and Kahtehrón:ni Iris Staceyas in the Mohawk community of Kahnawà:kein the early 1980s (Hoover, 1992; Richards & Burnaby, 2008; Rickard & Deer, 2008). In 1987, Kathy Michel and Janice Dick Billy opened the Secwepemc Ka nest in the community of Adams Lake in British Columbia (Michel, 2012). One year later, the Cree in Quebec also developed a language immersion program at the preschool and then kindergarten level (Stiles, 1997).” (p 27)

[“Pacific Island Language Nests” …]

“Samoan mothers and Elders played a significant role in the delivery of the Pacific Island language nest programs. Mothers helped to teach the language and Elders ‘meet, exchange news and recite legends to children’ (Utumapu, 1998, p. 29). Children learn:

“respect, cultural pride; family dignity; self esteem; sharing and caring for others; Samoan language; art of singing and dancing; family member roles; the Samoan preparation and presentation of food; handicrafts; cultural games; Samoan way of hosting visitors; listening to and obeying Elders. (Utumapu, 1998, p. 32)” (p 28)

[“Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Language Nest” …]

“In the early 1980s, the first Indigenous language nest was established in Kahnawà:ke territory in Quebec, Canada as a ‘pilot project to use only Mohawk with English-speaking nursery school children’ (Hoover, 1992, p. 271). … The Kahnawà:ke Survival School opened in 1978, followed by the development of a pilot full-language immersion nursery [page break] school program in 1979 (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006), that was based upon the successful French early immersion models in Quebec (Hoover, 1992).” (p 28-29)”

“Parental concerns over their children’s English language skills and related future opportunities were a large factor in the slow growth in attendance. Research that gave evidence that Mohawk language immersion was not at the cost of English language performance appears to have played a role in increased enrolment (Hoover, 1992). … Despite its role as a leader in the language nest movement in Canada, very little research has been published that focuses on the Mohawk language nest program at Kahnawà:ke.” (p 29)

[“Te Kōhanga Reo” …]

[“‘Aha Pūnana Leo Hawai’ian Nest Programs” …]

[“Onodowa’ga: Wadehsaye Oiwa’sho’oh Seneca Language Nest” …]

“The Seneca language nest in Western New York State in the United States provides an intimate glimpse of an Indigenous, family-based language immersion program.” (p 30)

“…the number of workers at the program increased from one cook and cleaner, to include language apprentices, as per Hinton’s (2001) Master-Apprentice model.” (p 31)

“Children’s families are included in the language learning process through the production of a series of parent brochures, through informal meetings with parents during drop off and pick up, and through participation in seasonal ceremonies throughout the year (Borgia & Dowdy, 2010).” (p 31)

[“Sámi Language Nests” …]

“As a result of these changes, Lule Sámi was increasingly ‘symbolically used’ and was becoming an ‘institution language’ rather than a language of the home and family (Braut, 2010, p. 41).” (p 33)

“The experiences of the Inari and Lule Sámi have contributed to the literature on language nest development and delivery through conference proceedings and published articles that are written in Finnish and Norwegian. As language nests appear to be a fairly recent phenomenon in these regions, some of the discussions regarding what constitutes a language nest (Morottaja, 2007), language immersion activities (Mattus, 2007; Paltto, 2007), and case studies of specific language nest programs (Pasanen, 2003), have the potential to inform similar discussions that are taking place here in Canada (First Peoples’ Cultural Council, 2014).” (p 33)

[“Conclusion” …]

“Most of the language nest programs in this review were started by groups of concerned parents (Borgia & Dowdy, 2010; Braut, 2010; Hoover, 1992; Utumapu, 1998; Wilson & Kamanā, 2001). Programs often began as pilot projects that grew in response to the needs and [page break] strengths of the community, and changed over time as lessons were learned through hands-on experience. … Language immersion programs tended to blend Western and traditional Indigenous approaches to early learning. In particular, the Hawai’ians and the Seneca found Montessori methods to be a promising approach for language nest delivery in full immersion (Borgia, 2014; Wilson & Kamanā, 2001).” (p 33-34)

“Most of the language nests in this review also connected with other language nest programs in order to prepare for inevitable challenges. In particular, the Māori inspired all of the other language nests described in this review, and had provided direct support to the Hawai’ians and the Mohawk; the Mohawk supported the Hawai’ians; and the Welsh provided support to the Sámi.” (p 34)

Selected References

  • Absolon, K., & Willett, C. (2007). Putting ourselves forward: Location in Aboriginal research. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as resistance: Critical, Indigenous, and antioppressive approaches. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
  • Borgia, M. E. (2014). Using gesture to teach Seneca in a language nest school. Language Documentation and Conservation, 8, 92-99. Retrieved from
  • Borgia, M., & Dowdy, S. (2010). Building an intergenerational, home-based language nest. Santa Barbara Papers in Linguistics, 21, 115-127.
  • Braut, K. T. (2010). To speak or not to speak. Because they tell me to speak Sámi at daycare. Indigenous language revitalization through preschool children learning a second language in a language nest. (Unpublished master’s dissertation). University of Tromso, Norway.
  • First Peoples’ Cultural Council. (2014). Language nest handbook for B. C. first nations communities. Retrieved from
  • Grenoble, L. A., & Whaley, L. J. (2006). Saving languages: An introduction to language revitalization. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hinton, L. (2001). The Master-Apprentice language learning program. In L. Hinton & K. Hale (Eds.), The green book of language revitalization in practice (pp. 147-176). San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Hoover, M., & the Kanien’kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center. (1992). The revival of the Mohawk language in Kahnawà:ke. Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 12(2), 269–287.
  • Mattus, I. (2007). Language immersion activities of the Association of Inari Sámi Language (Anaraskiela servi). In Revitalizing the Periphery. Raporta/Report 1 (71-73). Guovdageaidnu: Sámi Instituhtta.
  • Michel, K. (2012). Trickster’s path to language transformation: Stories of Secwepemc immersion from Chief Atahm School. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
  • Morottaja, K. (2007). What is a language nest? In Revitalizing the Periphery. Raporta/Report 1 (64-67). Guovdageaidnu: Sámi Instituhtta.
  • Paltto, K. (2007). Language nest activity in practice. In Revitalizing the Periphery. Raporta/Report 1 (73-75). Guovdageaidnu: Sámi Instituhtta.
  • Pasanen, A. (2003). Kielipesä ja revitalisaation: Karjalaisten ja inarinsaamelaisten kielipesätoiminta [A language nest and revitalization: Language nest activity among the Karelian and the Inari Sámi]. Helsinki, Finland: University of Helsinki.
  • Richards, M., & Burnaby, B. (2008). Restoring Aboriginal languages: Immersion and intensive language program models in Canada. In T. W. Fortune & D. J. Tedick (Eds.), Pathways to multilingualism: Evolving perspectives on immersion education (pp. 202-221). Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.
  • Rickard, P. M. (Producer & Director), & Deer, T. (Director). (2008). Kanien’keha:ka: Living the language. [Motion Picture]. Canada: Mushkeg Productions Inc.
  • Stiles, D. (1997). Four successful Indigenous language programs. Teaching Indigenous languages. Retrieved from
  • Utumapu, T. L. P. (1998). O le poutu: Women’s roles and Samoan language nests. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Wilson, W. H., & Kamanā, K. (2001). Mai loko mai O ka ‘l’ini: Proceeding from a dream – the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo connection in Hawai’i an language revitalization. In L. Hinton & K. Hale (Eds.), The green book of language revitalization in practice (pp. 147-176). San Diego: Academic Press.
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