If I am just
learning my language, how can I teach it?
It is common
in language revival contexts for
teachers to start teaching their languages even when they are just
learners themselves. Although this can be very challenging,
Aboriginal languages teachers often report that they enjoy their
work very much, and that it is very satisfying because it
increases their own language learning.
On a day-to-day basis, revival language teachers get through each
lesson by selecting manageable amounts of language they can use to
speak with their students. Before each lesson they select a set
number of vocabulary items and
grammatical structures. Teachers make sure their language
learning is a step ahead of their students. By rehearsing their
own use of the vocabulary and grammar selected for each lesson,
they are able to teach their students a lot. Here’s an example of
a teaching activity that shows how a teacher can select manageable
amounts of language when they themselves are learners of their
teacher might start with a set of ten picture cards to introduce
ten animals, and ask the students “What’s this?” and teach them
how to answer, “It’s a _____ . It is important that the picture
cards do not have the English translation written on them. This
will help the students connect straight from the picture to the
For each new
lesson the teacher is continually well-prepared by selecting and
preparing a set number of vocabulary and structures. S/he learns
those as part of preparing for the lesson. There is a constant
process of revising vocabulary and structures already introduced
as well as introducing new vocabulary and structures. This is
known as the
second step in the lesson, the teacher might go through the
animal picture cards again but this time ask the question “Is
this a ____ ?” and the students answer “Yes it’s a _____” or “No
it’s a _____”.
third step of the lesson, the teacher could randomly hand out
all of the picture cards to various students and then ask them
in language to give it back. Hold out your hand and ask the
student, “Have you got a ___ ?”
number of vocabulary items and grammatical structures, the
students could work in groups and play the card game Go Fish.
Each student has a set of animal cards in their hand. They try
to collect as many pairs as they can by taking turns to ask each
other e.g. “Have you got a dog?” and answering “Yes” or “No, Go
fish!” in the language.
subsequent lessons, the students could learn to ask and answer
other questions about the animal picture cards, e.g.:
|It’s a ______
this a _____
|Yes / No
it big, small, soft, strong, brown, long, short,
|Yes / No
is it doing?
walking, sleeping, eating, flying, watching etc.
A very encouraging article written for teachers of Native American
languages in California is Leanne Hinton (2003) How to teach
when the teacher isn’t fluent. It has some practical advice
about how to get started. It includes steps in an example lesson,
with the teacher and students talking with each other using verbs
and actions such as stand up and sit down, together with
structures such as: Is she sitting? Is he standing? Yes, she is.
No, he isn’t. The lesson focuses on oral
language skills (listening and speaking). Although it is
based on just eight words and phrases, the lesson involves a lot
of verbal interaction and involves the students in a range of
activities related to the vocabulary and structures planned as
content for the lesson.
Teachers also establish
routines which ensure that numerous phrases in the language
are used on a daily basis. The teacher gets practice at saying
them and the students get better at hearing, understanding and
responding to them.
Becoming a language teacher and developing your own language
skills is a long-term project. Over the years, you will become an
increasingly better teacher of your language if you are prepared
to put in some self-study hours each week, take up language
learning and practice opportunities when they arise, and commit to
developing your own language skills.
teach the older language or the newer?
languages change, many Australian revival language teachers
teach a mixture of older and newer aspects of the language. Older
language is what is known from records of the language of earlier
generations of speakers. Newer language is how the language is
being revived, developed and used by
people today. This website includes examples of both.
Teaching what is known of the older language is very important,
because it carries the tradition and knowledge unique to
Indigenous Australian peoples and cultures. For example, many
stories have survived in Australian languages and these often form
the basis for learning vocabulary and grammar, as well as culture
and knowledge of country. Teachers often give lessons about local
animals, bush foods and medicines, knowledge of climate and
seasonal availability of food and water sources.
Teaching newer language for daily interaction is also important –
language that can be used outside the classroom, in the playground
and beyond the school gates; language that can be taken home and
used in families, for example, Come here and give your grandmother
a kiss! What would you like to drink? Where’s your father?
Sometimes language like this has been recorded in the earlier
decades; sometimes it can be created by reconstructing
and developing the language. Decisions about this kind of
language development are made by communities.
For example, teachers of Kaurna (the traditional language of
Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains) teach formulaic expressions
which can be used frequently:
more examples can be seen in documents presented in a workshop Strategies
for re-introducing languages no longer spoken to children and
adults at the 2010 Institute on
Field Linguistics and Language Documentation by linguist Rob Amery
and Kaurna language teacher Jack Buckskin.
- on a
daily basis, e.g. ne yes, yakko no, wointye
maybe, Let’s go! Ngarkadlu! Let’s eat! Parni
kawai! Come here! Ngai padnendi. I’m going. Nakkota!
See you later!
home in families, e.g. Bakkadla parniappendo! Pass me
the salt! Wa nurlitti? Where are the keys?
talking to babies and young children, e.g. pinyattalya
sweetie, Ngannaitya ninna murkandi? Why are you
playing sport, e.g. Parni tattondo! Kick it here! Burnbondo!
Tackle him! Paitya! You beauty!
fishing, e.g. Wa kuyawodli? Where’s the fishing spot?
Kuya paiandi? Are the fish biting? Ngatto kuya
manki! I’ve got one! Wa kuyabirri? Where’s a
Are my students
first or additional language learners?
One of the most
important things to recognise is that there is a difference
your first language and learning an additional language.
Until recently additional language learning was called second
language learning. These days the term additional
language is used, recognising that some students may in fact
be learning a third or fourth language. Many students of
Australian revival languages speak English and/or Aboriginal
English as their first
language. So this website focuses on ways to teach an additional
language in a school context.
Who are my
learners and what do they already know?
When you are
preparing to teach your classes, it’s important to have a good
understanding of what your students already know and can do in the
language. They may be complete beginners; they may have been
learning the target language for several years; or they may have
gained helpful skills through learning another language in their
previous years at school.
Many programs have non-Indigenous students learning alongside Indigenous students,
though this situation varies from school to school. Decisions
about who should
learn Australian languages is a matter for local
communities. School leaders need to discuss this issue with the
and non-Indigenous learners
bring different prior knowledge to learning the language:
students have valuable background experiences. They are likely
to have ways of interacting and communicating which reflect
their culture and identity. This is important because learning
language is also learning culture. Although they may not
have grown up hearing their languages fully spoken around
them, they often know words and phrases, which may be part of
the Aboriginal English they use everyday, e.g. jilawa
(‘the toilet’ or ‘to pee’), wamba (crazy), nariga
(silly). Words such as these may come from the students’ own
languages or from neighbouring languages. These are
encouraging and positive starting points for those students.
Teachers can use them as a base and take the students much
deeper into the language, introducing them to additional
vocabulary and more complex language.
learners, teachers need to know what the students have learned in
language classes in previous years. Instead of repeating the same
vocabulary and structures, songs and stories every year, teachers
build on the skills and knowledge the students already have.
Teachers continually increase the amount and complexity of the
vocabulary and language structures from one lesson to the next,
from one week to the next, from term to term and year to year. In
this cumulative approach, students acquire and build their
language proficiency, extending their skills in listening,
reading, speaking and writing. This can only happen if the
teacher is increasing their own language proficiency.
learners are unlikely to be familiar with the local culture or
with words or phrases from Australian languages, though they
may be aware that there are words of Indigenous
origin which are widely used in Australian English, e.g. names
of plants and placenames borrowed from Australian
languages into English such as kangaroo (from Guugu
Yimidhirr), wombat (from Wiradjuri), waratah (from Dharug),
coolabah (from Yuwaalayaay), Uluru (from Pitjantjatjara) and
Brewarrina (from Wayilwan). Learning Australian languages
students with opportunities to think about the place they
live, understand the ways and views of local Indigenous
people and culture, and reflect on the place of their own
language and culture.
To find out what the students can already do in language, talk to
their previous teacher and/or check the assessment records from
the previous year that show the details of what the students are
already capable of. Teachers can also check the teaching program
from the previous year to find out the vocabulary and grammar that
has already been taught to students. In this way teachers can plan
a program which revises but also extends the students’ current
skills and knowledge.
What is the
spiral approach to language teaching?
involves revising language already taught but also designing new
activities to build on that language. Language teachers often
describe their teaching as a spiral approach. Learners often don’t
remember everything you have taught them, so there is a continual
process of both reviewing previously introduced language and
building on and extending known vocabulary
The spiral can be applied over a sequence of lessons but also over
longer periods of time, from one school year to the next. This
approach is used to revisit the same or similar themes and topics
with students in different classes, each time using teaching
strategies and classroom materials appropriate to that age. For
example, the theme of family and kinship can be taught to
Kindergarten students and to Stage 4 students but using
age-appropriate strategies, resources, depth and complexity of
vocabulary and grammatical structures.
How can I use
themes and topics to organise my language teaching?
teachers plan their programs around themes and topics. Some themes
and topics used in Australian revival language programs include:
topics such as these help teachers to determine
the purpose for using the language, and to select the vocabulary and structures needed to
use the language for that purpose. If students learn vocabulary
and structures which are all connected to one theme, they are more
likely to remember that language content.
me, about you
cycles in the bush
a healthy life
we see in the bush
we do in the bush
sea animals and coastal life
Choosing a theme, language functions, vocabulary and structures,
is the first step towards planning lessons, making resources and
designing assessment tasks.
How can I
establish language routines with my learners?
A good way for
students to continually hear language is for teachers to learn and
constantly use language related to daily organisation of the
classroom. These instructional language phrases are in
addition to the language content planned for each lesson. They
become part of the everyday routine of the class. Some of these
expressions may already exist in the language and some may need to
be created or developed.
For managing the class:
instructions to students during activities and lessons:
in, come here.
down, sit here.
Stand up, stand in a line.
at me, look here, look there.
quietly, go slowly, go quickly.
much noise! Too noisy!
Wait, wait now, wait quietly.
with each other during in activities and lessons:
it up, put it down.
carefully, think carefully.
Stick it here.
Write it down.
a circle, form a circle, sit in a circle, stand in a circle.
in groups of four, get into groups.
to the front.
this, do it like this, do it like me, follow me.
me (the question), ask him/her.
I have one?
my turn, your turn, his/her turn.
next to me, stand next to me.
me, show me how.
Good, good work, very good.
girl, good boy.
try, try again.
almost got it.
Listen carefully, listen now.
Listen to me, listen to him/her.
it after me.
it for me.
Repeat that for me.
can’t hear you.
didn’t hear you.
do you say ________ in language?
For ending the
Hello (to one person, to two people, to a group of people).
Welcome, sit down.
Books away, chairs in, finished now.
you later (to one person, to two people, to a group of
I learn more about language teaching?
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:
This page was first
published on November 22, 2013 and was last updated on
December 9, 2013. All material is copyright to the
individual authors unless indicated otherwise.
If you have any suggestions
for ways in which this document could be improved or made
more accessible to users, please do not hesitate to
contact the author, Susan