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21st of March is Harmony Day in Australia, promoted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Among ideas for teachers' lessons are:

  • Language treasure hunt: Use your class/school mates as a resource to ‘collect’ basic words or expressions in other languages.
  • Borrowed words: Search the internet to compile a list of words commonly used in English that have been borrowed from other languages.
  • Where does your name come from? Research the cultural origins of first or last names. Do they have a meaning? Are there variations of your name in other languages eg John/Ivan/ Giovanni/Johann?
  • Linguists: Find out how many people in your class/school are bilingual or multilingual.
  • Body language: Ask schoolmates from various cultural backgrounds what gestures they would use to show the following: ‘Come here’, ‘Go away’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘Crazy’, ‘OK’, ‘Good’, ‘Yes’, ‘No’.
  • Roll call: Say “good morning/afternoon” in a different language each week.
  • Diverse scripts: Can any of your classmates write in another script (eg Korean, Arabic)? Ask them to write your name in this script.

A good start but I guess this assumes that primary students mostly WON'T be learning a language other than English in any depth.

So, what to do? Well, we can all comment on the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority's start on designing a curriculum on languages.

My initial comment is that the very first ACARA question 'what is an appropriate rationale for learning languages?' blurs the fact that there are different rationales depending on what the state of the students' knowledge of the language is, and what the state of the documentation of the language is.

2. With respect to Indigenous languages, at least the following situations should be recognised.

--Indigenous languages as L1: strengthening

--Indigenous languages as L2: learning from scratch - and this in turn will differ according to how well documented the language, and whether there are speakers left of it.

There's been a fair bit of work done on learning Indigenous languages as L2 (see for example the NSW syllabus [.pdf]. But there has been very little work done on how to strengthen children's command of Indigenous languages that they speak as first languages. Go Curriculum writers!


I would suggest to make studying the target indigenous language compulsory for all students in areas with high percentages of Aboriginal people.
And give all Australian students who wish it access to the local indigenous language.

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