Last month, over 1.82K downloads of the Diné Bizaad app were made within the first 11 days of the application’s release on iTunes. The app, which functions like a Navajo language dictionary, was developed by Native Innovations, a Northern Arizona company. The company, headquartered in Flagstaff, collaborated with Navajo speakers across Arizona and New Mexico to develop the technology, collect vocabulary words and record the words and phrases.
“I never thought I’d do apps,” said Jerome Tsosie, president and owner of Native Innovations, a Flagstaff business that was birthed as a professional development company, but has grown into a one-stop technology shop for schools and businesses that includes network design and maintenance. “It’s fun to do, but you have to have a passion for it,” he said. “The business is like a growing baby; it grows its own legs and then takes off.”
With the Diné Bizaad app, users are able to toggle between the Diné keyboard and the English keyboard. They can search words in Diné and English and then listen to the pronunciation of Diné words and phrases using the audio feature. Users hear vowel, consonant, glottal and high tone sounds. In addition, the app allows users to share Diné words and phrases to email, messaging, Facebook and Twitter and copy and paste them into other apps. The app was conceived by Kialo Winters of Cuba, New Mexico and the concept was in the works since early 2013. Tsosie and Winters put together a development team that included over 11 contributors that worked on the project from throughout the Navajo Nation. The team utilized crowdsourcing to add Diné words and phrases from all over the reservation. “Some of the slang I‘ll record right there when I hear it when I am on different parts of the Reservations,” said Tsosie.
The “Word of the Day” sends daily notifications of Diné cultural notes in both Diné and English to Diné Bizaad (which means Navajo Language) app users. Florian Tom Johnson, director of Navajo Studies at Rough Rock Community School in Rough Rock, Arizona, contributes the Navajo Word of the Day.
“The kids are supposed to be learning [the Diné language] at home,” explained Tsosie. “But that’s not happening.” He should know – Tsosie taught in public and BIA schools on the reservation for 10 years. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Education in 2002 and his Master’s in Education Technology in 2008, both from Northern Arizona University. “With this app, you can practice at home or in a personal place on your own time. You can become a Digital Warrior!”
According to the description on iTunes, Native Innovation is “using the Internet and the World Wide Web as a repository for preserving the Diné language. Speaking our Diné language instills our values, our wisdom and our way of life. We see our generation preserving the Diné language, then our goal is to have the next generation promoting the Diné language. We challenge you to promote life-long learning in all our indigenous language learners by either becoming creative facilitators or mentoring a language learner.”
“Part of our mission at Native Innovation is to give back, so we are not charging for the app. You can download Diné Bizaad for free,” said the president of the native- and veteran-owned business.
The app was also designed to be used by police and fire departments, hospitals, schools and universities. Tsosie is hopeful that organizations in these categories will sponsor the free app. “They could pay us to enter content for their use, or we could build a whole new app for their use,” suggested Tsosie, as he demonstrated the ease of adding a word to the app. “It updates in real time. I just added the Diné word for ‘AIDS’ this morning. The Diné word is rather long.”
Current sponsors include KTNN, “The Voice of the Navajo Nation,” radio and Navajo Nation Head Start. “We can send out mass notifications with advertising messages or emergency alerts to all the app users,” said Tsosie. The app developer added that Native Innovations could build an app specifically for a school to instantly announce updates and happenings or even emergency lockdowns.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be my own boss someday.’ I didn’t think it would happen so fast,” laughed the former school teacher and successful businessman.
The Diné Bizaad app is now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch from iTunes. The Diné Bizaad app for Android will be released in December. FBN
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Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
By Stacey Wittig
Flagstaff Business News