Just speaking a
language does not mean that someone will necessarily be a good
teacher. Almost everyone in Australia speaks English. That
doesnít make them all suitable to teach English as an additional
language in schools.
They undertake several years of specialist training.
such a person may not exist for Australian languages, especially
those that are no longer spoken on a daily basis.
languages that are no longer spoken it can sometimes be the case
that an outsider, such as a linguist,
is the person who knows the most about the language. In such a
situation it might be necessary for that outsider to take the
role of the main teacher of the language in the early stages,
until local people have gained enough ability in the language to
take over teaching it themselves. It would also be a good idea
for everyone to get some assistance from a teacher, especially a
language teacher, to develop and deliver a successful program.
Although linguists are
generally not trained language teachers, they will often try
to teach what they have learned about a language if that is
what the community wants. However, the best outcomes will be
achieved if they work in partnership with community members
and a trained language teacher
to help community members develop as speakers and
There are two
major issues to deal with here. One is not being able to ask native
speakers the Ďrightí way to say something, and the other
is not being able to hear the language spoken regularly by by a
lot of different people. For reviving languages these are very
common problems. It may be the case that the teacher is also a
learner herself, and that there is not a lot of information
recorded about the language. This makes matters difficult, but
doesnít have to
make it impossible.
The first step
is to identify what resources exist for the language. If there
are none or very little, it may be that only a program where
people learn about the language rather than to speak it, known
as a language awareness
program, can be developed. If that is the case, the community
might, in the short term, teach a neighbouring language instead,
one that does have enough material available. That may be
disappointing for the community, but it is probably better to
teach another Australian language than to teach a completely
foreign one. Where this has occurred with the support of the
community, it may spur on the necessary work to develop those
essential language materials needed to teach the local language.
Teaching another Australian language may also
be the best strategy while reclamation
of a local language is being attempted. That way when the time
comes to teach the local language, learners will already have a
good idea of how closely-related languages work, and will find
switching to the local language easier.
If there are
enough records of the language available that some useful
sentences and vocabulary can be taught, then there may be enough
to begin a reclamation
program. To do this successfully will take some time and a
committed team. While the community is free to attempt this
themselves, the process will be much easier and quicker with the
help of a professional linguist. They can
use their knowledge of the structure and function of languages,
especially Aboriginal ones, to guide the reclamation
process. They will also be able to give some guidance as to how
the language probably sounded.
While the reclaimed
language may not be identical to the historical version, it can
still be revived
if people start speaking it to each other. It only needs a pair
of learners to begin with. As long as more people are added to
the group, and they keep using the language with each other as
much as possible, those people will become the new speakers of
the language. It will take some time, but it is possible.
possible a native
speaker will be in class
and do most of the teaching. However, especially for reviving
languages with only a few speakers, it may not always
possible to have an accomplished speaker in the room with the
classroom teacher and/or community teacher. Most people overcome
this problem by using audio or video recordings.
With a good
library of words and sentences recorded from a native speaker it
is possible to either play them as required, or copy and paste
them into a range of software programs to produce teaching
materials such as talking flashcards, e-books or interactive
whiteboard games. Students can also practise by listening to
recorded words, phrases and sentences, and then record
themselves to compare with the original. Just listening to
recordings has some value, but itís obviously better for the
students to attempt speaking.
The same goes
for the teacher. The best way to overcome the lack of a native
speaker in the classroom is for the teacher to
become a good additional
language speaker. Of course it is difficult and takes
time. But, it is no more than you are asking of your students.
As long as you are a lesson or two ahead of the class, you can
teach them everything you know!
that are not spoken anymore it will be necessary to try and
reconstruct how the language might have sounded. A linguist who
has experience with Australian languages can give invaluable
assistance in this task, as they will have knowledge of the
sound patterns of related languages. With their help it should
be possible to achieve a good approximation of how the language
once sounded. It may not be perfect, but it should be close
enough that a native
speaker would understand. And, under the
circumstances, thatís the best outcome that can be expected.
teaching, it is also a good idea to first work out the instructional
to use in delivering lessons. Translating common expressions
like stand up, sit down, say it, be quiet, listen, you try,
good, try again, and so on will make it much easier to conduct a
lesson that is in the
language, rather than just about it.
It is very
unlikely that Australian languages were ever formally taught in
the old days, apart from some very special situations like
passing on secret ceremonial language or songs.
other language in the world Australian languages were, and still
are, learned as first
by children growing up in situations where the language is
spoken around them. Although some parents may believe they
taught their child to speak, they didn't really. Children learn
language from their language environment,
regardless of whether their parents try to actively teach it to
them or not. This is why we use the term language acquisition
languages. Children acquire
language (sometimes they may learn more
than one) at home, but learn
additional ones at school. Although English is taught in
all Australian schools, most children arrive at school already
speaking English. Apart from English as an Additional Language
programs, English teaching at schools is mostly concerned with
enrichment, literacy and developing an appreciation of
literature Ė not
learning to speak the language at all.
language learning the situation is
different. In the modern world additional
languages are often taught in structured programs,
including through schools. However, most people in the world
still learn their additional languages
the natural way Ė by mixing with speakers of another language
and having a need to understand and speak to themóbeing immersed
in the language. You can imagine if you were transported to
another country where you didnít know the language. You would
very quickly learn it in order to survive! Ideally additional
language learning uses a combination of both structured learning
In the old days
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would frequently
mix with their immediate neighbours who spoke different
languages or dialects. At major ceremonies they would also mix
with people from further away. In order to communicate they
would need to learn each otherís languages. But they did this
just by using them as part of daily life, not by holding
classes. The strong similarities between the languages also made
this easier. We can be sure of this because it has long been
observed as exactly what happens in those communities where
language is still strong, and there have never been any stories
or records identified suggesting that people actively gave
language lessons to each other.
to speak an Australian language an additional language in a
class is a modern activity that mostly follows modern methods.
Itís not a traditional activity, and so there are no traditional
methods for additional
language teaching used. However, Aboriginal people may
develop their own models of language teaching that they feel
better reflect their culture. Of course many Aboriginal language
teachers already incorporate strategies that are culturally
appropriate, story-telling, sitting in a circle and holding
lessons outdoors are some examples.
Of course, taking students into the bush to engage in traditional activities in an immersion class will provide a much more realistic environment in which language can be learned. This kind of environmental immersion learning is a great example of communicative language learning and is often used for teaching other languages as well, like using Chinese to order and eat a meal in a Chinese restaurant.
There is no one
best way to teach language. However, there are many different
ways to engage learners in using language to communicate Ė
exactly what it is intended for. The combination of methods and
strategies that do this is called a communicative approach
to language teaching.
Just as there are many different ways to teach languages well, there are also many different strategies that have been shown to be rather ineffective. For example, learning lists of words out of context, without learning to use them to say something meaningful, can be a good memory exercise but will not, in itself, lead to language learning.
There is no quick way. Although there
might be some strategies and activities for learning particular
elements of language that allow for occasional leaps forward,
the overall process just takes time and effort.
Of course, learning activities that
are interesting, fun, involve meaningful communication, motivate
learners and reward their achievement will work much better and
faster than others. The trick is to try and make your language
teaching as much like this as possible.
Sometimes people promote particular
methods of teaching language that promise amazing results. They
might refer to Ďacceleratedí, Ďautomaticí, Ďpowerí or
Ďsubliminalí teaching. Usually these methods are strategies for
learning particular features or structures, and do not develop
full competence in the language. They might also just involve
tried and true methods like immersion teaching, but package them
in a way that makes them sound exciting and new. A well-trained
language teacher will already know most of these methods.
The best approach to language teaching
is one that focuses on getting learners to communicate in real
and useful ways, and draws on a broad variety of methods and
activities that keep learners interested and motivated, and
cater to a range of learning styles. Good language teacher
training gives teachers a broad array of methods and techniques
to do this.
are teaching language you are also teaching culture, because
language is the main vehicle for the transmission of culture.
Some people have said that language is the DNA of culture; the
code in which all cultural information is contained. Each
language embodies the world view of the culture it comes from.
It provides a culturally specific way of understanding the
world, describing it and interacting with others. Just by
learning and using a language people are actively engaging with
additional specific activities like singing, dancing or
gathering and preparing food can be incorporated in language
teaching to provide realistic and meaningful opportunities for
communication in the language. These kind of real activities
provide an opportunity for learners to acquire whole sets of
language associated with particular activities, and give them
the chance to actually use the language to communicate; the
greatest goal of language learning.
of ceremonial or other religious activities is something the
community would need to reach a decision on, particularly if
classes are mixed. They might decide that these are traditional
forms of knowledge that need to be taught by traditional
authorities in traditional contexts, not by teachers in schools.
Itís up to the community to decide.
about good teaching for reviving Australian languages is one of
the main purposes of this website. To make it more accessible we
have arranged it under the following headings: