The Chaldean Community Foundation and Mango Languages team up to create a Sourath series
By Ashourina Slewo
Chaldean (Aramaic), a language dating back more than 3,000 years to the time of Christ, is scarce in the world and on the brink of extinction. With the persecution that Christians have faced and continue to face in Iraq, Chaldean proves to be a difficult language to preserve for future generations.
Recognizing the importance of preserving the Chaldean language, the Chaldean Community Foundation has teamed up with Mango Languages to create a Sourath Series. “We met the Mango Languages leadership at a “Building Community” event being hosted by the Jewish News and Chaldean News,” said Martin Manna, president and CEO of the Chaldean Community Foundation. “Two of Mango's owners are Jewish and took an interest in preserving our language because parts of their Torah are in Aramaic. As well, they were interested in creating the course to serve the Chaldean community.”
Based in Farmington Hills, Mango Languages is an online learning resource. Mango Languages provides a new take on learning a different language as they provide learners with realistic conversations and an incorporation of culture. With the incorporation of culture in the teaching of the language, Mango Languages proves to be the right company to help the Chaldean Community Foundation in their mission to preserve Chaldean.
“We provide cultural information along with grammatical explanations; we teach based on authentic-sounding onversations and we teach phrases that can be used in everyday speech,” said Mango Languages linguist, Lilia Mouma. “Learners can use the language from day one.”
Born out of frustration with the methods in which were being employed to teach the language, a community member came forward to fund the project to create a better method of teaching and preserving Chaldean.
“We’ve been working with Mango Languages for several years now, as part of an effort the Chaldean Community Foundation has taken to preserve our language,” said Manna. “We didn’t get rolling on the project until a community member – Jason Najor – approached us. He was frustrated in how the language was being taught and wanted us to help develop a practical method to teach the language to future generations. He has funded the first phase of the project.”
Even with the funding and the manpower to back the project, creating the Sourath series has been a struggle. A large portion of the struggle can be attributed to the very reason the Sourath series is being created. With very few people having the ability to fluently speak Chaldean and English, finding someone to aid in the development of the program has proven to be difficult.
“It’s been a struggle developing the program; many people assume they are experts in the language but unfortunately, not many are,” said Manna. “It took us some time to find those that were fluent in both English and Chaldean and to be able to read and write the language. Initially we worked with a woman out of Arizona but contractual issues forced us to abandon that effort and to re-start a year later. Mahir Awrahem, Yasir Marroki and Jumhoria Kaskorkis were contracted by Mango to develop the program. The Chaldean Voice and Shoki Konja also provided technical assistance and a studio for recording.”
Working with experts of the Chaldean language and culture, Mango Languages first designed an outline of what the course would look like. “We based the outline on what the learner of Chaldean would be interested in learning so they could use the language in their everyday exchanges with heir immediate family and with ther Chaldeans,” stated Mouma.
Kaskorkis, who recorded dialogue for the Sourath series and aided in editing and reviewing, believes that this program is a great tool for anyone who may be interested in learning Chaldean. “What you learn is not only the language, but also you get to know a lot about the culture and way of life of other communities,” said Kaskorkis.
Once the outline had been created, Mango Languages was able to move forward in developing and recording the series. Recorded by native Chaldean speakers, the Sourath series will have an authenticity about it that many language learning resources tend to lack. As well, for learners who do not know how to read Chaldean, Mango Languages have created “pronunciation pop-ups” to accompany the lessons.
With the first phase of the project done, a tentative launch date for the end of September has been set. Once the Sourath series is launched, learners can access it through Mango Language’s website, and smartphones and tablets via Mango Language’s IOS and Android apps. “We hope to continue the programming; this is only phase one of the project,” said Manna. “Our goal is to complete phases two through four soon, which will allow the learner to become fluent in Chaldean. That will depend on the success of Phase one and future funding.”
Through this partnership, the foundation and Mango Languages are able to bring awareness to the Chaldean language’s existence and promote its preservation. Simultaneously, Mango Languages have also opened up an avenue of learning that goes beyond what most language learning resources have offered.
“With the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, it’s only a matter of time before our language becomes extinct. It’s unlikely we will survive in Iraq and that is why we need efforts like this to preserve our language, similar to efforts to preserve our history (texts) and culture,” stated Manna. “Many others have published books to teach the language and our Church continues to offer classroom instruction. They should all be commended for their work. The Mango Languages Chaldean Tutorial will complement their work.”
The need for the Sourath series is apparent as the language is being lost even within the community. For years, churches in the community have attempted to teach Chaldean, finding it hard to remain consistent and reach individuals.
“It is very important to learn the Chaldean language to preserve our mother tongue, the language that Jesus spoke; [we have to] keep the language alive in our communities and for younger generations,” stated Kaskorkis. “People love languages and the best way to approach other communities is conversation, Mango Languages is a great start to spread the Chaldean Language in a unique [and] advanced way.”