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Desert Companion

Tech: There's an app for that language

Don Thornton uses cutting-edge methods to save ancient languages. Through his Las Vegas-based company Thornton Media, Inc., he’s developed software to teach young Native Americans tribal tongues that might otherwise fall through the generation gap. He’s worked with more than 170 tribes in North America to develop software that teaches their tribes’ vocabulary, written symbols and even their creation stories. It’s software that tribes have come to fervently embrace.

“One tribal leader said to me, ‘I think people have this idea that American Indians should be learning their language while sitting barefoot in a teepee in front of grandpa,’” says Thornton, a Cherokee. “That’s not the case at all. They want to use technology to build and revive their cultures.”

Now Thornton is taking his language-software savvy to the mainstream market — with a new company and a new approach. His latest language-learning initiative isn’t quite a Matrix-style cranial download, but it’s close. Forget brute memorization and conjugation exercises. His new company Talking Games plans to develop a third-person questing game that teaches Spanish in fast and fun fashion. Imagine something like Grand Theft Auto, except you wield words instead of a weapon to get what you want. Even cooler: You can help. Thornton is speaking the universal language of Kickstarter, and is seeking funders to help Talking Games bring language learning into the 21st century. Info: ndnlanguage.com

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