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Chris Newton: Restoring Lost, Dying Languages to Communities Around the World

Chris Newton: Restoring Lost, Dying Languages to Communities Around the World

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! Today I’m excited to cruise around with Chris Newton, the founder of Speakden, and chat with him about his organization’s work in promoting UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Let’s jump right in, Chris. Great to have you here today. What challenge are you addressing with Speakden?

Chris: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Through Speakden, we are bringing lost and dying languages back to communities around the world.

Spiffy: Wow, tell me more! And what motivated you to do it?

Chris: I am lucky to have my own language, English. When I worked for a Native American tribe previously, I realized that most of the kids I worked with, in grades K-12, were not able to speak their original language, Cupeño. As a writer, I believe that if I can write in my own language, everyone should be able to write (and read and speak) in their own.

Spiffy: Absolutely. So, how does this tie into advancing us towards a more equitable world?

Chris: Well, we are creating Indigenous language immersion preschools in Indigenous communities worldwide, which we hope will begin a movement that eventually evolves into K-12 schools in these languages. Education should be available in every person's own language.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your community. 

Chris: Recently, we found an advisor from Google Translate to help guide our initiative. This offers us expert knowledge and resources in an area where only very little has been done to restore lost languages to their communities. Google Translate is a world leader in using technology to understand language, and we are thankful to receive the direction of one of their team members.

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it ?

Chris: Through elementary, middle, and most of high school, I loved and excelled in math. It came easily to me. However, when I came to my junior year of high school and entered Honors Pre-Calculus, I found a concept difficult that I couldn't immediately master, and I gave up early in the semester. I received F grades for the academic year. I learned that we do not always master ideas our first time, even when we're usually skilled at them, and that this is not a reason for us to stop trying. My senior year, I enrolled in Pre-Calculus again with this new belief in mind, and I mastered the material. Failing teaches us to remain curious, and curiosity is one of the main roads to success.

Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Chris: I learned that tradition, whether it comes from a person's religion, culture, or both, may be stronger and more invisible in a person's life than it may at first appear. Religion and culture are understood and lived differently by everyone, and we must not judge a person's traditions based on what we read in books. We must ask others how they understand their traditions, listen to them, and respect them.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Chris: We often are what we repeatedly tell ourselves we are not. When someone says you are talented in a particular area, listen. If the talent they identify feels true to your heart, follow it. Our heart is our main compass in the world, and as our heart grows through our talents, so does the world.

Spiffy: Beautiful words. Thanks for speaking with me today, Chris—it’s been an honor!

Chris Newton is a Master's student in religion, literature, and culture at Harvard University. He holds a bachelor's in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and studied philosophy and law abroad at the University of Oxford. He is a writer and is working on his first novel. (Nominated by Alex Parks at Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 13, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.