By Rick Wells, The News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, OK -- Getting and keeping young people excited about their heritage and their language has been a concern of the Cherokee Nation for generations.  Now, a floppy piece of silicone may just be all they need to do the trick.

Probably the largest group in the Cherokee Nation that is proficient in reading, writing and speaking the Cherokee language can be found in the Cherokee Immersion School.  Third and fourth grade students are learning to read, write and speak in Cherokee.

"They think of the world as Cherokee again," said Joseph Erb, one of the developers of a new tool that makes writing in Cherokee on the computer easier.

His partner in the project is Roy Boney, Jr.

"All the upper case syllables are on the top," Boney said, pointing to the new tool.

What they developed is a keypad overlay. It fits right over the standard computer keyboard and makes typing in Cherokee easier. The symbols in the syllabary Sequoyah developed almost 200 years ago are right there under your fingertips.

Cherokee is already loaded onto every Apple computer as standard equipment.

"We've been able to make progress in language instruction, but the use of technology will make it explode," said Melanie Knight.

Principal Chief Chad Smith says this little silicone overlay could be essential in expanding language use. "Anything we can do to get the language pushed out," he said.

The students have taken to it, not only for school work. They do emails, blogs, wiki's - all the social media.

"Every barrier you can take away to add language to your community is a barrier that adds another speaker," said Joseph Erb, one of the developers of the Cherokee language keyboard overlay.

That means more speakers helping preserve Cherokee heritage.

Get more information on these new keypads and the entire program on the Cherokee Nation web site.