learned a little of an endangered language as a child but went
on to acquire another language for everyday use instead would be
classed as a heritage speaker, rather than a native speaker.
didn’t have heritage rights to the language but learnt it as
their first language anyway would still be considered a native
speaker, even though they were not a heritage speaker.
The term native
speaker is more connected to first language; heritage
speaker is more connected to inherited rights.
learn an Australian language as your first language, it is
highly unlikely that you will be able to speak it without an
accent that reflects the sound patterns of your first one.
established that each language has both large and small
differences in the way its speakers make sounds from the way
speakers of other languages do. Although, with practice, most
people can learn to overcome the big differences, once the
patterns in your brain that control how you make speech sounds
are set down, overcoming the small differences is very
difficult. So, speakers of a language as an additional language are almost always detectable to native speakers
learning an Australian language, the only way to completely
avoid an English-speaker accent is to learn the Australian
language first, or at the same time as they learn English. Of
course, if you learn English as a second language after
acquiring an Australian one, your English will show the
influence of your first language and give you an Aboriginal
English accent. This is the case for almost every Aboriginal
person who has learned English as a second language.
grow up in communities where Aboriginal English is widely spoken
will often tend to develop an accented form of English, based on
the language of their environment, even if nobody actually
speaks an Australian language there.
The best you
can do is practice your additional language paying close
attention to how you sound and trying to make it as authentic as
possible by copying the habits of native speakers.
important aspect of learning an additional
language is mastering the rules for saying the right forms
of words and for putting them together in the correct order to
communicate what you mean to other speakers. Even if you have
trouble with some sounds, if you can put the words together
properly most people will still be able to understand you. For
people travelling overseas, this is usually enough for them to
get by. However, if you really want to be a good speaker and
sound authentic you need to work on your sounds.
The first step
is to realise that not all the sounds in Australian languages
are the same or even all that close to the sounds of English,
although some of them are.
languages don’t make use of the difference between p and b, t and d, or k and g. So, you can
often use either, regardless of which one is used for writing.
However, it is also often the case that the position of the
sound determines which one of each pair is more likely to occur
at the beginning of a word, or in the middle of it, or next to
The sounds p, t and k also have two
normal pronunciations in English; the one with a puff of air at
the beginning of words like pin, tin and kin, and the one
without the puff of air like in spin, stun and skin. Australian
languages generally do not use the first set, only the second
ones without the puff of air. So, for English speakers, it can
be hard to hear and correctly pronounce the normal sound of p, t and k in Australian
languages, and they will want to substitute b, d and g. For Australian
language speakers learning English, the opposite applies, and
saying p, t and k at the beginning
of words so that they always sound different to b, d and g can be very
guides and some teachers will tell learners that the sounds
written ty, tj, j or dj in Australian
languages are the ‘same’ as in English church or judge. They aren’t,
although they sound somewhat similar to English speakers. To say
the Aboriginal sounds correctly, you need to have the tip of
your tongue locked behind your bottom teeth and press the flat
part of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. In the same
way ny and ly in Australian
languages are not the same as in onion and million; they are much
more like some sounds in French, Italian and Spanish. Again, the
tip of your tongue needs to be locked behind your bottom teeth.
languages make use of short and long vowels, and which one you
use can change the meaning of the word. There is also a tendency
for them to stress long vowels. For example, in Gamilaraay gaba means good, and gabaa means
whitefella. Vowel length isn’t so important in English and tends
to be controlled by stress patterns and neighbouring sounds.
This means that English speakers can easily get the stress wrong
when speaking Australian languages and change the length of
vowels inappropriately, clipping some as they would in English
and making the meaning unclear, or pronouncing words that are
should sound different so they sound exactly the same.
There are many
other potential areas for confusion and it isn’t possible to
explain or try and deal with them all here. And every Australian
language has unique sound patterns. The best option to try and
sound authentic is to copy native speaker. If there are no
native speakers or recordings of them, try to look at
neighbouring languages that are still spoken, or try to get help
from a linguist
who is good with sound systems and can point out the differences
and coach you. Even copying the rhythm and tone of speech from
strong Aboriginal languages is a good idea to help you sound
less like an English speaker.
important thing to do is practise. The more you use the
language, the more natural speaking will seem to you, and you
will develop your own way of speaking – even if you do still
have a bit of an accent.
speech fluency generally refers to the ability to speak
and/or write easily and smoothly in an accomplished way. In the
context of language learning it
is often used interchangably with oral proficiency,
a more precise term, and
referred to in terms of levels that range from native speaker
to the kind of fluency expected of a beginning learner.
who generally do not speak a second
language themselves, tend to use fluent to mean ‘has some
sort of ability to speak the language’. But, this is not very
helpful as it doesn’t give a clear idea of exactly what tasks a
person can perform in the language. In revival contexts people
are often so impressed by the fact that someone can speak a bit
of language that they describe them as fluent, when they might
not be able to speak it very much at all. And, if you can’t
speak a language yourself, you can’t really judge someone else’s
fluency except to say that it is better (or worse) than yours!
more correctly, oral proficiency, is usually measured on
a set scale that indicates a range of ability from non-speaker
to native speaker. Each step along the scale represents an
increasing level of complexity from just being ‘able to say and
understand a few words’ up to being ‘able to conduct all aspects
of everyday life in the language’.
scales are usually used for healthy majority languages, there
may be some indicators on particular scales that do not fit the
situation of reviving languages, like ‘can perform work duties
in the language’, or 'can conduct government responsibilities in
the language'. However, in most cases the differences in ability
are clear and the scales can be applied to any language.
fluency is useful because it allows a realistic assessment of
individual and group abilities so that planning for further
acquisition has a sound base, and it gives a way of establishing
whether learners’ abilities in the language are actually
One factor that
is very different in languages that are being revived is that
the usual measure of native speaker
is not available. We can never know what native speaker fluency
in the past would have been and current speakers of reclaimed
languages are limited in how much fluency they can achieve. The
hope is that, as more people learn and the language develops and
is helped to grow, the level of fluency will increase. It is important for
school and examining authorities to be aware of these special
issues when developing curriculum and assessment tasks.
(2013) discusses Questions
of fluency in Australian languages revitalisation