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The Challenge of Language

The languages of the North American First Nations peoples had not evolved written forms. To help their own language-learning and to permit transmitting what they were learning to future colleagues in the missions, the Jesuits consigned the elements of grammar and vocabulary to hand-written and hand-bound books.

The two Jesuits soon concluded that if they were to bring people to the faith they absolutely needed to learn the local languages. They set to it in great haste, without realizing how difficult it would be, given that they had neither interpreter nor teacher.

Paul LeJeune, adapted from the Relation of 1635

Without textbooks or teachers, the learning process was long and difficult for the Jesuits. The early Jesuits lived with the First Nations people, sometimes without understanding them, in order to acquire the basics and to develop their language ability.

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