Learning an Endangered Language: Ainu

Mathias Barra
3 min readApr 9, 2019

I got to learn about the Ainu back in 2012 while doing my exchange program in Japan. While doing some research on it for a presentation, I saw how peculiar and interesting the culture and language were.

I found a website which has a podcast held every year from the first Sunday of April, teaching the basics of Ainu with different teachers and contents as a whole.

Back then already, it picked my curiosity.

Nowadays, the Ainu language is spoken mostly in Hokkaido despite originally coming from hunters from the northern part of Japan’s main island. As they migrated slowly towards the north, the language evolved, getting aspects from around them.

Among others, it now contains influences of Japanese and Russian while also having its own wording as well.

Back then, there was no writing system but in order to preserve it, they have since then been created and you can now write it either in using Katakana (one of the Japanese characters’ type) with some extra signs added or using the Roman alphabet.

Following 2012’s discovery of Ainu, I started trying to learn it but kept on giving up after a month or two. Every year, when it would start from the beginning again, I would give it a go and give up once more.

The course from April 2017 though caught my eyes more and its construction pushed me to keep on learning. I finished the whole year’s podcasts without fault but the one from April 2018 didn’t attract me and I ended up giving up once more.

I have amassed a rather solid foundation knowledge of Ainu throughout my many tries along the years but everything has been stuck in my passive knowledge. I now wish to consolidate all I have learned so far while continuing my apprenticeship.

This year, a new class just started this past Sunday and, looking at the PDF, it seems this might do it for me again this year.

As a result, from now on, I will listen to those podcasts while learning about the Ainu culture as much as possible.

I am also planning on reaching out to the people in charge of it in order to see whether I could you the recordings to start creating an English online version and contribute to expanding the language’s reach outside of Japan.

There are only few natives left now and the language has been classified as an endangered language “nearly extinct” by the Unesco.

The reason behind this is the way the Japanese government handled Ainu people and culture in the past, putting on the side and not acknowledging it. Due to this, most native Ainu hid their origins and now may offsprings are unaware of their own origins.

The Ainu language is a beautiful language, coupled with a culture turned towards nature and the elements.

I will try to share this deep interest in Ainu’s culture and language along with the course throughout this new year of content.

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Mathias Barra

French polyglot speaking 6 languages. Writer. Helping you learn languages. Get my new ebook → https://linktr.ee/MathiasBarra