Voice of America has a piece, Aboriginal Languages Slowly Making Way into Australian Schools on teaching Indigenous languages in New South Wales.
But it also contains two bizarre claims.
(i) "traditionally, Aboriginal people were forbidden from speaking their own language. If they were caught doing it, they could be punished by beating, or they could be killed."
Kids were punished yes, beaten yes, but I have never come across evidence that people were killed for speaking their own language. Killed because they couldn't understand English and couldn't make the killers understand them, yes.
(ii) "In New South Wales, all students have to learn a second language, and this policy being pioneered by the state government aims to make indigenous languages the main option, along with Chinese and French. "
Why French? Why not the languages of our neighbours, Indonesian? Tok Pisin?
For a reality check I browsed the NSW Education Department's policy website. L for languages, nothing. C for Community languages produces a policy for the payment of a Community Language Allowance to suitably qualified employees who have a basic level of competence in a language other than English. Under C for Curriculum, there are: Driver education & road safety, Environmental education, Homework, Literacy & numeracy, Religion, Values, Vocational education. No Languages.
[Additions and changes here cos I'd BADLY misread the website - eeek - thanks Mari!]
Buried in Curriculum Support. are Aboriginal languages, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Indonesian (phewwww!), Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. Arabic is pretty important, since there are far more native speakers of Arabic in the Sydney area than native speakers of French, and since we trade a lot with Arabic speaking countries.
Buried deeper still , I found the figures for 2006, for Secondary students at Government schools enrolled in languages, which I have reordered in terms of number of enrolments.
|LANGUAGES: LIFE SKILLS
*your guess is as good as mine as to what this is all about
Anyway, from these numbers, while French is still top of the pops, Indigenous languages and Chinese have a long way to go to displace Japanese.
Helping Indigenous people reclaim their history through re-learning an Indigenous language is a social concern, as is, by and large, teaching non-Indigenous people about Indigenous languages. For only a few Australian language speech communities is it vital for life-and-death communication that some non-Indigenous people learn them. By contrast, learning the languages of our neighbours and trade-partners is a strategic and trade concern ( cut to banging on again about Tok Pisin and Indonesian ...). The situations of Indigenous languages and languages of other countries are different and require different strategies for teaching them. It does both concerns a disservice to treat them as if they were one.
How about.... everyone learning something ABOUT Indigenous languages, some people learning an Indigenous language in detail, and most people being encouraged to learn well a language of another country.