School revives lost local indigenous language

AT 60,000 years old it is one of the world’s oldest languages and has almost been forgotten.

Facilitator Joel Wright teaches local Aboriginal language to 14-year-old indigenous students Sam Alberts (left) and John Williams at Warrnambool College. 140725LP33  Picture: LEANNE PICKETT

Facilitator Joel Wright teaches local Aboriginal language to 14-year-old indigenous students Sam Alberts (left) and John Williams at Warrnambool College. 140725LP33 Picture: LEANNE PICKETT

But now a Warrnambool school is doing what it can to revive a local indigenous dialect while teaching students the richness of Aboriginal heritage and culture.

Warrnambool College believes languages spoken by the first Australians have been overlooked for too long in favour of those of European and Asian countries.

Aboriginal language is yet to be formally introduced into Australian schools, but the college is close to including it in its LOTE — Languages Other Than English — program.

“We’d love to introduce Aboriginal language into our LOTE offerings into 2015,” vice-principal Andrew Matheson said.

“Why should we only teach Indonesian and French when we have our own local Aboriginal dialect language to be teaching?”

Bi-weekly lessons in which year seven and eight indigenous students learn their own “Warrnambool dialect” have captured interest to the extent the school is looking to introduce the program to older year levels next term — including after-school sessions catering for parents and staff.

“It has been really good. We’ve covered a range of themes and topics and the students have really responded,” Mr Matheson said.

The lessons will hopefully end up being taught at VCE level. “That would be the end goal and an amazing opportunity for students,” he said.

“Certainly it all comes back to some capacity to be able to fund a program like this. 

“I suppose if you make it a priority then you find the funds to be able to do that.”

Joel Wright is facilitator of the program. He has spent more than 10 years researching for the reclamation of indigenous culture in the community and is thrilled with the school’s program.

“The last five weeks have been sensational. They (the students) were a little bit apprehensive in the first lesson because it’s totally new,” Mr Wright said. 

The language hasn’t been spoken regularly locally for 110 years, but a program known as ASLA — Accelerated Second Language Acquisition — offers an abstract and more cultural way of learning a language.

“(It involves) introducing the kids to basic phrases, how to say their names, what is their kinship terms, family, wildlife. (It’s) just to get them comfortable with the words and sounds of Aboriginal language,” Mr Wright said.

“Immediately you’re thrown straight into the grammar. Right from the word go you’re able to put sentences together.

“Those sorts of things really do improve indigenous kids’ desire to learn. 

“They feel like their culture is respected. 

“It breaks away from the stereotypical way that Aboriginal culture has been perceived for far too long.”

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