When Inky Gibbens learned that Buryat, the northern-Siberian language of my grandparents, was in danger of dying out, she knew then and there that she had to do something. But from a remote part of the Mongolian steppes, she felt powerless to act. However, she was lucky enough to come to the UK in later years, to study modern languages and subsequently focus on language policy and revitalisation during my master’s degrees.
5 years on, she is now founder and CEO of a newly-formed Cambridge-based EdTech startup, Tribalingual, which is pledged to rescue endangered languages from the brink of extinction.
Tribalingual is backed by the Cambridge Social Ventures programme in the Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School and focuses solely on teaching rare and endangered languages. For Inky, the only real way to save languages is by getting more people to speak them; and so she decided to set up this online language school. So where others attempt to preserve languages by mummifying them through documentation and archiving, her platform gives them a new lease of life by cultivating new generations and communities of speakers.
With language extinction occurring at a rate of one every fortnight, some estimate that 80% of the world’s languages will disappear within the next century. For Inky, there is more at stake here even than language death: because languages are so fundamental to us as human beings, when languages die, so does our collective human heritage.
The culprit for this crime? Globalisation of course, spurred by the digital revolution. But fortunately, the revolution on which the ascension of world-languages ride is a double edged sword, giving Inky and others the means to fight back. So while conventional EdTech start-ups use digital tech to automate the learning process, Tribalingual use it to recruit an army of individual speakers of these ailing tongues to act as soldier-educators in the mission.
In the congested language learning industry, Tribalingual invariably stands out from the crowd. And the connections formed between teacher and student are also unique. Through this distinct model, Tribalingual is able to offer a kind of inter-cultural experience others can’t, in which people can learn of distant cultures from around the world.