Reawakening Australia's Aboriginal languages

SCRIPT:

A greeting used by this area’s indigenous Wiradjuri people.

Students at this school in western Sydney are learning the basics of the Wiradjuri language including animal names, and how to talk about family members.

SOUNDBITE 1 Shantelle Nguyen Huynh (woman), High school student (English, 6 sec):

“Like, where’s your Mum, where’s your brother. Like, for instance, ‘dagai yinna’ which is ‘where’s your sister?’”

At the time of European settlement, there were an estimated 250 to 270 distinct Aboriginal languages in use across Australia.

Now, less than 70 are still being spoken on a daily basis.

Here at St John’s Park High, the students – many of whom come from immigrant families – are using the language to gain a greater understanding about the country’s first people.

SOUNDBITE 2 Noeleen Lumby (woman), Aboriginal language teacher (English, 14 sec):

“I think it’s important that the kids learn language and culture at the same time. And because most of the students that I teach are non-aboriginal, we look at culture across the whole of Australia and look at the diversity of culture.”

But while Aboriginal languages are undergoing something of a revival in Australia, there are many challenges.

The main problem is a lack of resources – both in terms of textbooks and dictionaries, as well as teachers.

Here at the University of Sydney, these trained teachers are doing a masters course in Aboriginal language education.

The masters’ students are all Aboriginal and most will take their new skills back to their own communities.

It’s in these communities that language revitalization is perhaps having the most profound impact.

SOUNDBITE 3 Jodi Edwards (woman), Masters student in Indigenous Language Education, (English, 11 sec):

“Your own language is a part of your soul, it’s a part of who you are and to not have your language is to not have your right arm.”

SOUNDBITE 4 Pat Ellis (woman), Masters student in Indigenous Language Education (English, 12 sec):

“To watch the pride that people have when they’re able to speak to somebody else in their own language, nothing can measure against that. It’s just amazing what it does to people.”

A powerful result from a group dedicated to reawakening Australia’s sleeping languages.

SHOTLIST:

SYDNEY, OCTOBER 16, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- School children saying a greeting in Wiradjuri language

- School children walking across a playground

- School children in a classroom learning Wiradjuri language

SOUNDBITE 1

CANBERRA, JANUARY 26, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- Wide of an Aboriginal flag on the ground and people in the background

- Two men wearing shirts bearing the Aboriginal flag

SYDNEY, OCTOBER 4, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- Various of a map of Australia showing the different Aboriginal language groups

SYDNEY, OCTOBER 16, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- Wide of children in a classroom learning Wiradjuri language

- A girl writing a Wiradjuri word on a white board

SOUNDBITE 2

- A student looking at a computer screen showing the Wiradjuri names of Australian native animals

- Children learning in a classroom

- Closeup of a student writing in a notebook

SYDNEY, OCTOBER 4, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- Various of students in a classroom at the University of Sydney for the Masters in Indigenous Language Education course

- Closeup of student Pat Ellis

CANBERRA, JANUARY 26, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

- Posters outside at an Aboriginal community gathering reading "Healing Spirit" and "No Room for Racism"

SYDNEY, OCTOBER 4, 2012, SOURCE: AFPTV

SOUNDBITE 3

SOUNDBITE 4

- A screen showing an Aboriginal word and a kangaroo

- Students in the Masters of Indigenous Languages Education course

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AFP TEXT STORY:

Australia-native-Aboriginal-language,FEATURE

High-tech classrooms reviving Aboriginal languages

by Madeleine Coorey

SYDNEY, Dec 18, 2012 (AFP) - In a high-school classroom in western Sydney, teacher Noeleen Lumby is asking her pupils to recall the Aboriginal name for animals that indigenous Wiradjuri people have used for hundreds of years.

As she holds up stuffed toys representing some of Australia's native wildlife, including a kangaroo, an emu and a cockatoo, the class of about 25 -- many from Vietnamese and Cambodian backgrounds -- come to grips with the ancient tongue.

"I like this because you get to learn new skills and you can speak some indigenous language," said 12-year-old Tien Nguyen.

Lumby, who oversees the students as they use their new knowledge to create projects on computers and iPads, is passionate about filling a gaping hole in Australian education -- the study of Aboriginal languages.

"I think it's important that the kids learn language and culture at the same time," she told AFP.

"And because most of the students that I teach are non-Aboriginal, we look at culture across the whole of Australia and look at the diversity of culture."

Only a small handful of the 1,110 students at St. John's Park High School are indigenous, but for Lumby one of the joys of teaching is when students were "talking in language with me".

Australia's Aborigines once spoke 250 to 270 different languages but best estimates now suggest less than 70 are still being spoken on a daily basis, with even fewer passed on to younger generations.

"We're losing languages as we speak because kids are increasingly not learning their parents' language or languages; they are learning a form of Aboriginal English," said Sydney University lecturer John Hobson.

"Australia is kind of close to holding the world record for the extinction of indigenous languages; we haven't just wiped out the mammals, we're doing pretty well on indigenous heritage as well."

Hobson said that while a small number of schools in remote Aboriginal areas held classes in indigenous languages, by and large the language of instruction in Australia -- settled by the British more than 200 years ago -- is English.

Although indigenous language teaching is undergoing a revival, many Aboriginal communities are geographically isolated making it a struggle for those working to keep such languages alive.

A crucial problem is the lack of resources -- both in terms of text books and resources as well as teachers.

Hobson, who in 2006 began a masters course instructing teachers how to teach their own indigenous languages in schools, said in many cases his students created the resources they needed for the classroom.

"Our gang have to start from scratch for pretty much everything. They have to produce their own," he said, adding it was a far cry from the French or Mandarin teacher who could easily access dictionaries and other resources.

Hobson said his students were mostly teachers from an indigenous background who were involved in the revitalisation movement.

"Some of them would have ambitions to restore those languages to vernacular use... but others would be simply working, at this stage anyway, on having language back as a badge of honour," he said.

The revival movement is making some progress; some languages which would have once been referred to as "extinct" are now more likely to be seen as "sleeping".

"We'd like to think that people could restore languages to full use," Hobson said.

"But even if they do, one of the issues that invariably has to be dealt with is the fact that the records of the language either in living memory or in recordings or paper records... are not complete.

"So people would need to embrace the idea of reconstruction... which you might think of in terms of some language engineering."

Hobson sees the course he offers, believed to be the only one of its kind in Australia, as a "kind of stop-gap measure" to try and build a supply of trained teachers to keep up with demand.

"The underlying issue is that Aboriginal people do want to bring their languages back ... people increasingly talk about how to reawaken their language," he said.

Jodi Edwards, one of the masters students in Hobson's class, is one such person.

"Your own language is a part of your soul, it's a part of who you are and to not have your language is to not have your right arm," she said.

END