RIDGEFIELD, NJ—The Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) held its first ever Armenian Language Workshop at Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church this weekend. The goal of the workshop was to revitalize the importance of and break stigmas surrounding the Armenian language, as well as provide resources for those looking to strengthen their Armenian language skills. For this first iteration, 20 AYF-ER members gathered to discuss the Armenian language and the role it plays in our personal lives and communities.
The event, organized by the Central Language Council and hosted by the AYF New Jersey “Arsen” Chapter and its community, featured the following four speakers:
Samuel Chakmakjian – Language Vitality: Strengthening our Armenian Language Skills
Meghri Dervartanian – Primary versus Secondary Language
Rupen Janbazian – Armenian Language and Identity
Dr. Vartan Matiossian – How has the Armenian language evolved?
The weekend also included discussions, games and other engaging activities that allowed participants to share their experiences and vision for the Armenian language.
A majority of the presentations and discussions were conducted in English to ensure that all AYF-ER members were able to participate regardless of their abilities, but guest speakers and participants alike found opportunities to incorporate the Armenian language wherever possible. In particular, the CLC worked with Chakmakjian to experiment with a number of approaches to make presenting in Armenian accessible for those who may not understand the language, including summarized translations, spontaneous translations and handouts with translations.
Throughout the weekend, there was a unique focus on the somewhat counterintuitive idea of making the Armenian language a means, and not an end. For many, the sanctification of the language and an over-emphasis on speaking մաքուր Հայերէն (proper Armenian) actually prevents them from speaking for fear of being wrong. By taking the language down from its pedestal and finding ways to encourage practice and development, rather than criticizing or correcting mistakes, the Armenian language becomes more accessible, and therefore more usable. In doing so, individuals can also better appreciate the value and beauty of the language, while also making it their own.
Throughout the discussions, participants stressed the importance of their individual responsibility in improving their Armenian and creating spaces where they can speak freely with their peers, without the pressure or shame that has sometimes been associated with speaking Armenian. Programs like the CLC’s Zruyts Mruyts and Zroutsig Mroutsig and the Armenian Relief Society’s new Let’s Chat Armenian initiative aim to break down barriers around speaking Armenian by focusing on improving through practice in a welcoming and supportive space. Members developed a vision to make Armenian an everyday language—one in which everyone, but especially the youth, can innovate, develop and create.
Activities and games also enhanced the learning experience. Blindfolded AYF-ER members were given instructions in Armenian as they made their way through an obstacle course. There was also an Armenian lip reading competition and a visit to a local bowling alley to celebrate an AYF member’s birthday.
Participants headed home on Sunday with stronger friendships and fond memories with their fellow AYF members, a renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope for the Armenian language and the determination to improve their communication skills in their mother tongue. Each participant also committed three small changes to incorporate a little more Armenian into their everyday life (e.g. texting their friends in Armenian, reading an Armenian passage every night, journaling in Armenian).
The CLC is looking forward to witnessing the impact of this workshop and generating more interest among its membership for another event in the near future.