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[From Gail Woods, Lecturer, Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education, with respect to the Languages in Crisis summit]

Whilst the discussion paper is clearly focused on Languages Other Than Australian (LOTA) and the inherent security and economic risks associated with monolingualism, its sentiments could/should be subversively harnessed to develop the case for the maintenance of Australian languages.

For example, the pertinent benefits relating to studying a second language such as the increased rate of literacy development (as opposed to the myth that maintaining Australian languages decreases the uptake of English); the consistently high performance levels achieved by European children (who study second and third languages) as opposed to Australian children, in comparative literacy and numeracy tests; and “the cognitive benefits such as divergent thinking processes and more efficient uses of brain functions” could be equally fed into a proposal to reinstate properly resourced bilingual programs in schools where students’ first language is other than standard English.

That the industries of tourism and international education rely on a notion that Australia is “a tolerant society that welcomes people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds”, must be seen as laughable when we have demonstrated such a poor record of Indigenous language preservation and maintenance. Australian language and culture programs in schools are miserably underfunded, if in fact they operate at all. They are then held up as failures, with the blame squarely placed on Indigenous communities. And when the dollars are tight they are the first to go.

Certainly, as stated in the discussion paper, schools should not be seen as a monolingual habitat and never was this more true than in remote community schools throughout Australia.


Thanks Gail, this is very interesting. Is the discussion paper available? Even though, it appears it only discusses non-Australian foreign languages, as you say, the same principles would apply.

I have to admit, I was seduced by the common-sense claim that retaining/teaching aboriginal languages could only inhibit English literacy/fluency. Pointing out that there need not be an 'either-or' situation tended to be my defence for the further emphasis on aboriginal languages.

But more recently, especially with the raging debate over English literacy standards and monolingual education, I've heard several people, you and Carmel O'Shannessy included, point out that bilingual education is shown not to hinder English 'educational outcomes' (I hate that phrase), and in some cases is beneficial for fluency and literacy in both languages.

Again, the situation really does appear to boil down to the vilification of aboriginal communities, an unfortunate case, but one that is consistent with land and housing funding in Tangentyere council, the inflated and occasionally concocted data with respect to compulsory English schooling, etc.

Schools should not be seen as a monolingual habitat and never was this more true than in remote community schools throughout Australia.

Hear, hear.

Hey Jangari,

And even more mind-blowing than 'it doesn't have to be either-or', is to ask those who assert that maintaining Indigenous languages hinders spoken and written competence in English to actually demonstrate that this is the case, rather than feeling the burden of proof is on those who disagree with this myth (as Gail so rightly calls it).

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