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Why learn an Aboriginal language?

The benefits of learning a language

  • The majority of the world is bilingual or multilingual.
  • Learning another language can increase our understanding and respect for other cultures and world views.
  • Learning another language provides a range of opportunities to engage with the country or group of people to whom the language belongs.
  • Learning a language teaches how to figure out patterns and use higher order analytical thinking skills, as well as improving listening and literacy skills.
  • If we learn one language we are better able to go on to learn other languages.
  • By learning another language we can learn more about our first language in terms of its sounds, alphabet, grammar and social ways of using it.
  • Many linguists (such as Noam Chomsky) say that we are hardwired for language at birth and that there is some sort of mechanism in the brain to help learn languages, particularly during childhood.

Why learn an Aboriginal language

  • Most Aboriginal languages in Australia are endangered with fewer and fewer speakers so by learning an Aboriginal language or learning about Aboriginal languages we can help contribute to the health of the languages.
  • Aboriginal languages can only be learnt in Australia. So we have a unique opportunity to learn them.
  • Aboriginal languages are said to be part of our shared national heritage. By learning an Aboriginal language we can also learn much about our shared history.
  • Learning about our shared environment helps us understand where we live and our place in the world.
  • Learning an Aboriginal language gives us an appreciation of the sophisticated and complex nature of them – similar in structure to Latin, particularly in case marking.
  • We can learn more about Aboriginal culture, which is embedded in language teaching.

Specific benefits for Aboriginal students

  • Empowerment. Often the first empowering step in Language Revival is that Aboriginal students realise that words and phrases they’ve grown up with ARE NOT rubbish or slang but in fact form part of their language knowledge. The fact that this knowledge has survived must be acknowledged and celebrated. This helps students feel good about themselves.
  • A sense of belonging. Aboriginal students can make the links between themselves, their language and their country and it helps that Aboriginal people are teaching the language. This helps students feel they belong.
  • Improved participation. If you feel good about yourself and you feel you belong then you are more likely to come to school. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest studying an Aboriginal language can lead to improved participation by Aboriginal students.
  • Improved engagement and performance. If you feel there’s something worth learning about yourself at school then you will also want to do well. There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that studying an Aboriginal language can lead to greater engagement and performance by Aboriginal students.

Why offer an Aboriginal language in NSW schools

  • The NSW Aboriginal languages K–10 Syllabus (2003) is available to help schools and communities offer Aboriginal languages as a subject.
  • There were more than 250 distinct languages in Australia before colonisation. Now there are only about 50 languages in a healthy state. One of the states hardest hit by early settlement was NSW. Offering Aboriginal languages, in collaboration with an Aboriginal community, can help contribute to language revival in NSW.
  • There are approximately 70 Aboriginal languages related to country in NSW. There is a close connection between language and country, which offers students a unique insight into their environment. Each language, for example, will have unique words to describe its particular tract of country.
  • Aboriginal languages must be taught, at least in part, by community members with language knowledge. This can allow your school to develop effective working relationships with your Aboriginal community. This in turn can increase community capacity.
  • Aboriginal community language teachers will always be around. This will be most helpful if your school finds it hard to attract language teachers but you have a strong Aboriginal community.
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