All Australians should learn an Aboriginal Language

Larine Statham Nine News January 21st 2011

Australians have diverse ethnic backgrounds and between them speak an array of languages, but Michael Christie believes we should look closer to home and learn an Aboriginal tongue.

Professor Christie, who was named the Northern Territory's Australian of the Year, wants more Australians to consider such a move as they celebrate Australia Day this year.

"It's part of the rich history of our country," he told AAP.

"If you study the language you start to learn about kinship and about land ownership and about ceremonial history, which actually teaches you something more general about Aboriginal societies.

"Learning the culture would help us reflect on the narrowness of some of our own Western European culture."

A fluent speaker of Yolngu languages, Professor Christie has been nominated for Australian of the Year for his award winning work in bringing Aboriginal and non-indigenous knowledge systems together in the fields of adult education, school curriculums, medical interpretation and remote housing.

He said all Australian children should be given the opportunity to learn an Aboriginal language at school, in addition to the foreign language classes on offer.

Originally from New Zealand, the Charles Darwin University indigenous language expert began working as a school teacher on a small island off the coast of Arnhem Land in the early 1970s when former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced bilingual education in schools.

"It worked really well and now we see a huge dislocation between schools and the community, which we can see in the terrible attendance rates that have gotten even worse since the end of bilingual education."

The NT government in 2008 announced that the first four hours of schooling in all communities would be delivered in English.

The changes continue to face enormous criticism.

Today, in some remote Aboriginal communities school attendance averages just 30 per cent.

"The use of Aboriginal language in schools brings Aboriginal parents and grandparents into the school and so brings the community and the school together," Prof Christie said.

He said it was important for Aboriginal children to start learning English when they reach the age of 11 or 12 to enable them to contribute to the Australian workforce later in life.

"But I think it's even more important that little Aboriginal kids grow up knowing who they are and knowing their language and their land and their family before they get hammered by a foreign language and foreign teachers in a foreign classroom setting," Prof Christie said.

The many Aboriginal languages used by the 250 or so Aboriginal nations in Australia were some of the oldest in the world, he said.

"It's a terrible tragedy that most of the Australian languages are dead and will never be spoken again and yet we don't seem to be terribly worried about how we ensure the vitality and the ongoing viability of the languages we still do have."

He said the national standardisation of education was one of the many things putting pressure on Aboriginal languages and causing panic among educational authorities.

"They will be required to teach more and more to the test, rather than developing educational practices which are relevant to that community.

"We seem to have lost the ability to tie our education into what's relevant in the here and now."

Bilingual children have an edge, research shows

Psychology professor and senior researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois
Photo by Concordia University

Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette January 20th, 2011

Bilingual children as young as the age of 2 start showing greater "cognitive flexibility" than toddlers who are unilingual, suggests a new study by researchers from Concordia and York universities.

The research appears to confirm what bilingualism supporters have long argued: that learning two languages -rather than "stuffing" the brains of children with too many words -actually gives them an edge over kids who speak only English or French. Earlier research showed this benefit in 5 and 7-year-olds, but the Concordia study shows it starts much earlier.

"Academic performance and school readiness are based on many abilities, but one thing is for sure: this is one ability that will be helpful. Exposing toddlers to a second language in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control," Poulin-Dubois said.

"Exposing toddlers to a second language in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control," Poulin-Dubois said.

Partners in research:
This study was funded by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"Bilingual children outperformed their unilingual counterparts on tasks where they were distracted," says Poulin-Dubois. "The small bilingual advantage that we observed in our 24-month-old bilinguals is probably due to a combination of infants’ experience listening to and using their two languages."

"These new findings have practical implications for educators and parents", says Poulin-Dubois. "Exposing toddlers to a second language early in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control."

The effects of bilingualism on toddlers’ executive functioning



I don't see why it hasn't been like this in schools since LOTE classes began?

I agree that Australian

I agree that Australian children should have a choice to learn an Aboriginal language. They were here first, so we should have to actually try to associate with them. I would like that option to be there at my school, and i'm only 13.

NT schools stick to English despite attendance falls

Dan Harrison Sydney Morning Herald January 18, 2011

The Northern Territory government has defended its policy of requiring all schools to teach the first four hours of each day in English, despite figures showing a decline in attendance among indigenous students since its introduction.

Advocates of bilingual education have linked the slide in attendance rates to the policy, introduced in January 2009 in a bid to lift numeracy and English literacy.

Two schools that had used bilingual approaches have recorded some of the largest drops in attendance. At Lajamanu, 550 kilometres south-west of Katherine, attendance rates have slipped from 60 per cent in November 2008, before the "First Four Hours" policy was introduced, to 47 per cent in November last year. At Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, attendance rates have fallen from 59 per cent to 34 per cent over the same period.

Before 2009 both schools used the Warlpiri language as the predominant language of instruction for beginning students, gradually increasing the proportion of English-language instruction until it was the primary language of teaching.

Greg Dickson, a linguist who has researched the impact of the policy in Warlpiri schools, said while the First Four Hours policy was not the only cause for the decline in attendance rates, it appeared to have been a factor.

"Warlpiri people have a long tradition of getting behind bilingual education," he said. "To withdraw that is a slap in the face to the years of investment they've put into bilingual education."

But the territory's acting education minister, Kon Vatskalis, said the causes for the drop in attendance rates were complex and included riots at Yuendumu in September, which caused about 100 people to flee to Adelaide.

The territory government will introduce a new strategy this year to improve attendance. It includes rewards for students who attend regularly, fines for parents whose children are repeatedly absent from school, and extending the school year to allow students to catch up on lessons missed due to funerals, ceremonies and sporting carnivals.

The government is reviewing the First Four Hours policy, but yesterday a spokeswoman for the education minister played down the prospect of any big changes.

Across the territory, attendance declined from 80 per cent to 78 per cent between 2009 and 2010. Among indigenous students, attendance declined from 67 per cent to 64 per cent.

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