Education consultant and teacher Miali Coley-Sudlovenick has been offering Inuktitut lessons online since January. She said she’s seen a “huge interest” from students across North America who want to learn the language. (Photo courtesy of Miali Coley-Sudlovenick)

Learning Inuktitut fosters connections, says teacher

Miali Coley-Sudlovenick sees ‘huge interest’ in learning Inuktitut online

By Madalyn Howitt

When Miali Coley-Sudlovenick teaches Inuktitut to her students online, she takes special care to work on the language’s unique pronunciations and sounds. 

It’s particularly important, given that she’s teaching from a place whose name is often mispronounced. 

“I don’t know how many people can properly say ‘Iqaluit’ and that’s the capital of a territory in Canada,” said Coley-Sudlovenick, a former teacher who currently runs Allurvik, an education and entertainment consulting business in the city. 

She said many people mispronounce ‘Iqaluit’ with a “k” sound when the correct pronunciation is somewhat closer to a guttural “h” sound for English speakers. 

“I’m just curious how many people have taken the time to really try to pronounce the sounds in ‘Iqaluit’ and why they’ve given up so quickly,” she said.

“When Inuit hear them making the attempt, it sounds respectful, it sounds like … that person made an effort.”

That desire to share the “beautiful” language she grew up speaking every day at home is one reason why Coley-Sudlovenick began teaching Inuktitut online in January. 

“I see the need to do classes online for sure,” she said of the Zoom-school format. 

“It definitely has the outreach potential, especially with people who might not have access to it in their communities.”

Coley-Sudlovenick seems to have ventured into online language teaching at the right time. January marked the start of UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages, a global effort to empower Indigenous language users and to promote education in their mother tongue. 

So far, she has taught students from the continental United States, Alaska and across Canada. She said she has noticed a “huge interest” from students in southern Canada in particular, as well as residents of Nunavut who want to become more proficient in the language. 

“A lot of the participants that I have are employees who work in different capacities here in Nunavut, so there are a lot of people who have an interest to have a better understanding of the language and be able to just connect more to the people,” she said. 

She’s also seen interest from Inuit who want to become more proficient in the language. 

“There are people, families who have children, who have been disconnected from the language and are looking to reconnect.” 

She said one of her goals is eventually to offer her Inuktitut classes to Inuit learners for free and she sees teaching an Indigenous language as a “small step in the right direction” towards fostering cultural connections. 

“And then I have many people who are just keenly interested in learning the language because it’s something that they find either interesting or maybe they have their own passion in learning languages and this is exciting for them,” she added.

Coley-Sudlovenick typically balances her lessons with grammar, vocabulary instruction and conversation practice, sometimes bringing in an Inuit elder at the end of drop-in classes so students have an opportunity to practice the material they just learned. 

She said her students are already at various levels of Inuktitut when they join, so she tries to harness the online format to let students ask questions during class and engage in ways that suit their skill level. 

“Every class, I try to make it a little bit different,” she said, adding that she hopes to start a new session of classes in mid-April. 

She said her experience teaching online so far has been “wonderful” but acknowledges that learning a new language is a challenge. 

“Learning a language can take many years and very consistent work and practice. The little that I can give online a lot of people do appreciate, but I also respect the fact that it requires a lot more than I could ever really give them,” she said. 

“I just encourage more people to to continue to practice bit by bit. If you understand where the sounds originate in your mouth, and then you know how they go through your throat and the mechanics of the sounds that are so unique to Inuktitut, you would really start to appreciate the beauty [of the language].”

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(28) Comments:

  1. Posted by Trying Hard on

    Glad to see someone is doing this. When I contacted the Pirurvik (Language) Centre to find a private Inuktitut teacher they had no recommendations. I think the centre should move towards supporting more online models, find more teachers and offer flexible learning approaches. It’s a shame when people want to learn and teachers are inaccessible. Not everybody can conform to the timing and structure of delivery Pirurvik is using. Glad to see what Miali is doing!

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  2. Posted by whipit on

    “I’m just curious how many people have taken the time to really try to pronounce the sounds in ‘Iqaluit’ and why they’ve given up so quickly,” she said.”

    Here’s the thing. Even though someone is saying a word or sentence in another language, they still have accents, and what you are describing is really a foreign accent. A French speaking person will often pronounce a “th” as a “t”, my Italian friend always rolls his “r”, even when speaking english. But they can communicate and I super appreciate that they took the time to learn. If people who speak Inuktitut as a first language would be less critical about things like how “q” is pronounced by people who are clearly learners but have the desire to try, maybe more people would continue to give it their all.

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    • Posted by It’s not Ikaaloowit on

      Pronunciation differences between q and k matter. They alter the meanings of words in Inuktitut. Of course there’s going to be a learning curve if you’re just hearing the words for the first time, but some people have been here for years and don’t make the effort.
      Yay, for Miali, I wish her every success

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      • Posted by Cappu on

        Again, that’s true of any language. However, accents exist and have nothing to do with respect. A person from Eastern Europe sometimes pronounces their “v” like a “w” and in Japan they pronounce “r” like “l” when speaking English. It absolutely can change the meaning. Yes, they are physically capable of pronouncing those sounds the way North Americans do, but I assume they are already making great effort to say words that don’t come naturally to them and I appreciate that they are trying. Are you saying that foreign accents exist in all languages but Inuktitut? That doesn’t make sense. And I sure as heck would never expect perfect pronunciation in a friendly conversation from an Inuktitut speaker who speaks English as a second language. I would never stop them with a scowl or laugh at them when they pronounce their “s” as a “sh” sound, as folks do in some parts of Nunavut. I get what they’re saying. If it doesn’t make sense, I try to take the context into consideration and figure it out. And it’s awesome because, dang, they’re speaking another language even though it’s uncomfortable. Props to them, and props to anyone who is speaks another language but struggles with a foreign accent. It is very, very uncomfortable and difficult for many to overcome a foreign accent when learning a new language.

        And dang it, props to Miali Coley for loving Inuktitut enough to teach it to others, and for the immense time and energy behind it and for doing it in a thoughtful way.

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      • Posted by Jillywilly on

        How is that different from any other language? Accents shouldn’t exist in any language? Good luck.

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        • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

          Accents exist in just about every language unless you have an amazing ear for human speech. English uses 44 sounds; there are around 160 recognized speech sounds in the world. As infants, they say, we make every speech sound there is, but quickly learn the ones we need for our first language. When we pick up a second language, it takes time to distinguish the new sounds – not to mention the different pace, rhythm, pitch and emphasis. If you speak a language correctly, coach a beginner.

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    • Posted by Let Tthe Accents Roll! on

      Exactly so. That would be like criticizing the very distinctive accent of many Inuktitut first-language speakers when they speak English. It is not a mispronunciation so much as first-language interference.

      Just as there is a wide variety of accents when speaking English, I suggest that Inuktitut speakers get used to hearing a wide variety of accents applied to Inuktitut place names, particularly as Iqaluit in particular continues to become more linguistically diverse. Someone whose first language is Urdu is not going to pronounce Iqaluit the same as someone whose first language is English.

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    • Posted by Amy on

      Most people who pronounce the ‘q’ in Iqaluit as a ‘k’ don’t do so because of an accent; they do it because they’ve seen it written (or heard it mispronounced by others) and don’t realize it’s closer to an ‘h.’

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      • Posted by Jabber on

        Miali correctly described it as a gutteral “h” sound, which does not come easily to some people who speak other languages.

        Also, a foreign accent is when a person speaks one language using some of the rules or sounds of another one.

        What you are describing is a foreign accent. You just don’t like it, for some reason. My terrible grandfather was the same way when foreigners were hard to understand, even though they had worked hard and learned the language. He would correct them and make them feel nervous and anxious to try. They weren’t stupid, it’s not that they weren’t trying or didn’t care. A Japanese person can be in the country 40 years and still wrongly use an “r” instead of an “l” and the other way around, but still have good vocabulary and know the mechanics of the language. This is no different. Learning a new accent is much, much more difficult than learning a language.

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        • Posted by Gutteral H on

          Is the gutteral H sound the one that sounds like you’re trying to work up phlegm? I can’t do that one without spitting EVERYWHERE when people try to teach it to me.

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    • Posted by Miali Coley-Sudlovenick on

      Thanks for your feedback, which I agree with in some ways. When I mentioned it to Madalyn (writer), I was saying that many who don’t have the opportunity to learn pronunciations like a common word such as Iqaluit might appreciate taking my class. I work with students to help them to try their best with encouragement and support. My hope is that people feel safe to learn and continue to have the willingness to challenge themselves. I hope you find the support you need. Feel free to email me. Allurvik@gmail.com

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  3. Posted by Jay Arnakak on

    ajunngi!!! Pikkungaputit, Miali.

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    • Posted by Jay Arnakak on

      you just showed, whipit, how all Inuit dialects are related. It’s not because of them being able “my grandpa said..” as a blanket statement but really insisting on “well-formed-ness” of what all humans talk about and communicate in the course of their day.

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  4. Posted by Miali Coley-Sudlovenick on

    The feedback is appreciated. The writer did misquote about my comments on Iqaluit. My words were about the question one asks themselves when saying a word like Iqaluit. Many have commented on finding the challenge of the ‘q’ sounds in Inuktitut and usually end up saying it with a ‘k’ sound or may not question the way Inuktitut speakers would pronounce it. I was saying, I wonder how many people think the pronunciation of Iqaluit, as it was said in Inuktitut or don’t think about it at all. Learning a new language allows us to think about the words we say and Iqaluit being a Capital city in Canada would be a common word, which could be a good place to start. I’ve also only had an Elder join in my Inuktitut (South East Baffin dialect) Beginner drop-in classes. I was sharing as well that I hope more will see the need for Inuktitut classes to see how they can begin their own classes and how thankful I have been to Pirurvik Centre for the work they do in making Inuktut more widely accessible. I spoke to the writer who is based in Ottawa, but hopefully writing more here gives people a bit more that was not mentioned. I’m always available for more dialogue and working to continually improve my communication skills towards becoming a better online Inuktitut language instructor. My website is http://www.allurvik.com

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    • Posted by whipit on

      Miali, you are doing a great thing. I especially appreciate that you are involving elders. It is a brave thing to try to speak another language, but I think it is even more brave to put together a curriculum and put yourself out there to teach it to others. I hope you know I mean no disrespect as I share my feelings about accents and learning Inuktitut. And I mean no disrespect if I panic a little inside and end up mispronouncing my “q” sometimes
      😛
      I hear your point though.

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      • Posted by Miali Coley-Sudlovenick on

        I completely understand your point as well. I’ve experienced that on so many levels and still do when trying to say words in French or Spanish. I think being able to express those deeper feelings in learning something new is huge and is often a missed opportunity for great discussions.

        Part of the way one interprets meanings can be easily misinterpreted as well. English being my second language, it often takes me time to get to my full point and I wouldn’t want people to feel discouraged because of this one article. Thanks for your follow up note and encouragement. Best.

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        • Posted by whipit on

          Not even! I am super excited about what you’re doing for Inuktitut. This article and the comments section just opened up an opportunity for me to express something that I have felt for many years. I could never say it in person or using my actual name because I just don’t think it will be received well at this time, and I don’t want to harm relationships or opportunities to learn. A bit cowardly, I guess. But just being able to express it, and get your feedback and understanding made me feel like a bit of a roadblock has been removed. Thanks Miali.

  5. Posted by GN workers on

    Government workers love these courses even if they dont learn a thing. Anything to get out of doing their actual jobs at work. In GN-speak, they call this “training”

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    • Posted by Make work projects on

      The GN loves Pirurvik and vice versa, even if both go nowhere.

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  6. Posted by Jess on

    Yes… at last.

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  7. Posted by Why on

    Why is this even considered news worthy?

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    • Posted by Language is Important on

      You’re obviously not from the north.

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      • Posted by Which north? on

        Or at least ‘this north’ as opposed to ‘the north’.

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      • Posted by Born and raised on

        Born and Raised here. However all the talks about our language issues, and we are yet failing to teach our own children. We are all Canadians, from the North to the South and we have to learn to keep our values alive, including our language, but we also have to keep us aligned with Canada. Language deficiencies should not be pushed to the schools, this is our responsibility.

  8. Posted by Mayor should learn on

    Has the mayor bothered to try to learn? He’s lived her his whole life and still can’t speak Inuktitut. He should at least try if he wants to be in politics.

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    • Posted by Bigger picture on

      Lot of people don’t speak Inuktitut. It’s a hard language to learn and there are barely any qualified teachers. Thankful for Miali, but they are few and far between. Even Nathan Obed the leader of the ITK doesn’t speak Inuktitut. Cant force someone to learn a language.

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    • Posted by Miali Coley-Sudlovenick on

      The thing is, according to the school system or at least when people like the Mayor and I went through the school system in Iqaluit, you either have to take Inuktitut or French, we were never given the option to take both classes.

      I went through the entire school system from K-12 in Iqaluit and sadly didn’t learn any French. I took the time independently to learn some French while living in Quebec City for a summer and continued a bit more on my own, but only after high school.

  9. Posted by Supporter on

    Miali-Elise Coley – be the inuk representative for the Nunavut Black History Month. Qulliq Lighting and All.

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