Interview with Shane Begay
I’ve asked a few individuals from the Navajo language learning community to share with the Navajo Now audience their language learning journey.
This first email interview is with Shane Begay. I first was made aware of Shane through the Facebook group Wááshindoon Diné bizaad. This is an informal group in the D.C. area where they share the Navajo culture through weekly language discussions. If you live in the area and would like to participate please refer to the group page on Facebook.
Shane is originally from Lukachukai, Arizona. He is currently living in Washington, D.C.. He is Tlizilani and born for the Tachiinii clans. He studied Politics at Brigham Young University where he received his bachelors degree. He enjoys the study of Politics which is, “part of the reason why I love being in DC.”
1. What is your earliest memory of Navajo?
The Navajo language has always been a part of my life. My parents always spoke Navajo to us. My grandparents only spoke Navajo and I have many aunts and uncles who only know Navajo. So it was something that I have grown up with.
2. When did you decide to learn Navajo?
I have always wanted to learn Navajo but felt somewhat embarrassed to ask my parents to teach me. I tried listening to them so I could grasp an understanding but never spoke back for fear of saying things wrong or being teased. (Even though I know that wouldn’t have happened.)
3. What kind of challenges have you encountered?
The biggest challenge has been finding resources. I get excited when any kind of language assistance is developed. I also wish there were more people around to speak to.
4. What level of fluency did you have when you started? And now?
I feel I have a basic understanding of the language. I just don’t speak well. When I study the language it has become easier to make connections and sense of the language.
5. What is your ultimate goal?
Definitely fluency, would love to be able to be a public speaker and converse with the elderly.
6. I personally have a wish list of types of media I would like to see mainstream in Navajo, what is something on your Navajo Learning wish list?
Nothing specific. I think any form of media can be used to learn the language. It just needs to be accessible to all.
7. There are quite a few Navajos wanting to learn Navajo but probably don’t know where to begin. Where do you suggest they start?
Don’t be afraid to contact people you know who are fluent to let them know your goals. Having people who are fluent to talk to is invaluable. Otherwise find a dictionary and other books to get you started on basic vocabulary. Then listen to KTNN and begin deciphering on your own.
8. For those who have a level of speaking fluency, what do you think they should maintain that fluency?
The only true way to maintain fluency it to speak. Even if that means having conversations with yourself. You can study all you want but it can still be lost.
9. What kind of materials do you use?
Right now mainly Rosetta Stone and conversations with a small study group. We try to find stuff on internet but there is not much.
10. What should fluent speakers do to help this generation of Navajo language learners?
I don’t know if fluent speakers need to do much more than keep speaking to friends, family, and children. If they have the resources to create new products that will help, I say go for it. Right now anything will help.
11. What kind of advice do you have for Navajo language learners?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or family. I believe that most Native speakers realize the importance of language survival.
12. What is your profession or what otherwise keeps you busy from day-to-day?
I work for American Indian Housing. Apart from work I try to keep active by running, biking, weightlifting, snowboarding, rock climbing. I love looking for inner city things to do. Obscure fun things.