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The Wednesday linguists' lunch at the CHATS cafe, ANU is a free-wheeling discussion of language, Indigenous Studies, and life in our various institutions - this week it ranged from the reconstructions of the pronunciation of  place-names (is Ulladulla really  Nguladarla?),  to language revival programs, especially John Giacon's experience with Gamilaraay,  and what works and what doesn't.

In language revival  communities are often encouraged to think that they can just dig up old materials, find a free PhD student to help sort it,  get some elders to front the class, and uwa palya all's well.  Well unless they're very lucky, it usually isn't -  mostly it leads to bored kids, frustrated schools and very disappointed community members.

Countering this is a new 230 page teachers' guide that Karan Chandler and John Giacon have produced for Gamilaraay communities in New South Wales - another classy Bruderlin-MacLean publication:

Chandler, Karan, and Giacon, John. 2006. Dhiirrala Gamilaraay! Teach Gamilaraay!: A resource book for teachers of Gamilaraay. Walgett: Yuwaalaraay Language Program. [You can get this and other Gamilaraay/Yuwaalaraay materials from Abbeys Language Book Centre ]

A welcome feature of this guide is the focus on lesson planning, on outcomes of each unit, and assessment.  There are lots of helpful things for teachers - black line masters for worksheets and so on.  Yes it has "Head and shoulders, knees and toes"  in Gamilaraay - and maybe in 50 years time that will be the only song that most Indigenous children can sing in an Indigenous language. BUT Dhiirrala Gamilaraay! makes a lot more of this - suggesting learning activities involving body-parts.  Check out the website  for further information.

The best teachers of Gamilaraay are most likely to be Gamilaraay people,  but most people need training to be good teachers.  John Giacon is teaching  Gamilaraay at the Koori Centre here at the University of Sydney, and the Koori Centre has also started  a Masters in Indigenous languages education, which should help Indigenous people teach their own languages.

Training and guides such as this support an objective of the NSW Aboriginal languages policy:

"To enable Aboriginal people and communities to have access to available language revitalisation and technical expertise, in particular linguistic, educational and/or other technical expertise, as required to develop and implement local language revitalisation community programs.

Access to skills and good advice is essential for language revitalisation programs.   Otherwise people's time, effort and funding will go down the drain.   Wouldn't it be wonderful if funding agencies DID make more use of the knowledge that is around - to assess projects and to advise projects.  Take a rather strange news item in June:

"The Camooweal-based Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation has received more than $120,000 in Federal Government funding to teach maths and English using Aboriginal dialects.  Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation spokesman Colin Saltmere says Mount Isa TAFE will assist in delivering the courses by August."

This project appears to involve Indjilandji, a language for which there is almost no written record.   Or do they mean Aboriginal English? Either way, I can't see that they can do anything sensible in so short a time.  Why oh why didn't their funding agency help them by putting them in touch with people who could offer them advice?  And you know what will happen? In a couple of years we will get screaming headlines about the enormous waste of money on Aboriginal language programs.  And the blame will be put on Aborigines, and not on the funding agencies.
UPDATE 28/11/06I should have remembered Mark Liberman's rule of thumb on attributional abduction Blame the journalist. Sally Sheldon (Myuma Pty Ltd / Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation) e-mailed me to say that in fact the project is to create "e-learning" resources for prevocational civil construction/mining training for Indigenous people. A minor component was to be using some words from relevant local languages in computer-based training resources, just to make the material more interesting for the trainees. In the journalist's alchemical hands vocational training was transmuted into the weirdness above. Sorry for passing on fools' gold!

Mercifully there is a faint ray of light: DEST have announced a study "Investigation into the current provision of Indigenous languages programmes in Australian schools (July 2006 – August 2007)" . Two linguists who have had a lot to do with Indigenous language centres and programs are involved - Nick Thieberger and Denise Angelo.

"Managed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), this project aims to improve the sustainability and quality of Indigenous language programmes delivered in Australian schools, and to promote good practice nationally. It will provide a snapshot of the current national situation in Indigenous languages education, including an analysis of existing models of teacher preparation and training for those involved in the delivery of Indigenous language programmes, and an evaluation of their relevance and applicability to the Australian context. As part of this project ACER will identify and evaluate examples of good practice in Indigenous languages programmes in schools reflecting different settings, and make recommendations for a second phase of action"

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