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Armed with technology, Mayan language teachers reach new generations

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
After centuries of colonial rule, more and more young people of indigenous backgrounds in Mexico are reclaiming their heritage. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Mayan language teachers at Yucatan’s Indemaya say they are seeing a considerable uptick in young people wanting to learn this Pre-hispanic language

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually all language classes were forced online, but this may have been a blessing in disguise for the instruction of Mayan.

“Young people these days feel much more comfortable with online learning environments, it’s our job to adapt to help their learning be as optimal as possible,” said Indemaya’s language department director, Yamily Tec Chan. 

The branch of Mayan spoken on the Yucatán Peninsula is known as Yucatec-Maya and is currently spoken by approximately 800,000 people, according to census data.

But over the past several decades, factors including racism and discrimination have led many Yucatec-Maya speakers to not pass the language on to their children.

So despite being the second-most spoken indigenous language in Mexico, after Nahuatl, the Mayan-speaking population is shrinking at an alarming rate. 

“Several of the students who come to our courses have some grasp of the language as they grew up listening to it at home. Nevertheless, attitudes are changing and many young people are becoming interested and proud in their heritage, which is a wonderful thing,” said Tec Chan. 

Earlier: The most beautiful Mayan words in the Spanish language

Mayan language courses such as those offered online by Indemaya are open to students of all ages, regardless of background or nationality.

Similar language programs are also offered by several other schools, such as the UNAM’s Cephcis language institute headquartered near La Plancha park. 

During the pre-Columbian era of Mesoamerican history, Mayan languages were written using a complex hieroglyphic system typically fully understood only by the ruling class.

But in the post-conquest era, most of these languages, including Yucatec-Maya, switched to the much simpler Latin script — allowing for more widespread literacy. 

Over the centuries, the Yucatec-Maya language has developed a wide new canon of post-conquest literature, as well as a rich array of artistic expressions including music in a variety of genres such as rap.

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