November 27, 2008

Facebook support from around the world for Bilingual Education in the NT

Last Tuesday, I heard that crack Helen Hughes talking rubbish on ABC radio about Indigenous Education. I got wild and channeled my energy by making a Facebook group called 'Supporters of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory'.

9 days later, 1000 people have joined the group! I am quite amazed. Even better is that if you flick through the people that have joined the group, they are from all over the world - Scandinavia, South East Asia, America, Europe, South America, Middle East - I don't know how they came to join the group but I'm glad they have. It is very heartening to see the support, but at the same time disappointing that the NT Govt is out of step with so many others around the world that have no trouble accepting and using Bilingual Education as a good way to deliver education.

November 21, 2008

Words for 'language' in language - help needed!

Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education is putting together a poster to promote the Batchelor of Arts in Language and Linguistics degree. For the poster, they would like to have as many words for ‘language’ in Australian languages as possible. If you’re feeling generous and can think of some off the top of your head, your help would be appreciated.

Here’s what I know off the top of my head…

yang (Rembarrnga)
matha (Yolngu matha)
gun-wok (Mayali/Kunwinjku)
jaru (Ngarinyman)
liiny (Jaminjung)
nanggaya (Alawa)
daway (Marra)

Any additions appreciated!

November 18, 2008

Some real media exposure in favour of Bilingual Education

Last night Tom Calma gave a talk in Darwin. He clearly put his support behind communities who want bilingual education in their schools and raised questions about rights abuses if communities aren't allowed to continue bilingual education. Marion Scrymgour was there at the talk but is still standing by her awful new policy for 4-hours-of-English-instruction in all NT schools.

Today the story went to national media. Here's what The Age printed.

To any linguists reading this (and others), please do what you can to support the cause. Don't let bilingual education fall by the wayside and not say anything about it. Educate people that bilingual education is actually aimed at assisting English acquisition (among other things) and that remote Indigenous education is not just a case of more English=better outcomes. Write letters. Talk to your MPs. Especially federal. Comment on blogs and websites.

All help appreciated and needed! :-)

November 14, 2008

Crikey has picked up on the NT-Government-kills-off-bilingual-education issue. Check out the article by clicking here.

Note in the comments, the same old arguments keep resurfacing about 'they need English to be able to get on in the world'. From reading these comments and comments on other news forums, it seems that lots of people don't get the point of bilingual education. They seem to read 'bilingual' and think 'lack of English' or 'no English'. It is very frustrating that many people are simply overlooking the fact that 'bilingual' means two languages, and that one of the main goals of bilingual education is to improve English acquisition. Grrr... how frustrating... all you have to do is wikipedia 'bilingual education' and it's there plain as day what the point of it is and how good it can be.

November 12, 2008


When I'm not moaning about the latest government policy that will have yet another negative effect on remote Aboriginal Australia, I'm actually doing some work. This week I'm running a workshop for my Ngarinyman and Jaminjung students. These languages are endangered and spoken around the Timber Creek area. I've only got five students this week but they're all doing well and are keen. This week, I'm trying to make sure they know their alphabet well (as well as know what an alphabet is!). I'm making sure they can all read a decent amount of basic words. And I'm trying to make sure they know what nouns, verbs and affixes are. Some of the students have no trouble with this stuff but for some it's hard work. What's great is that they're all trying and they're all learning, slowly but surely.

And I'm enjoying learning a little bit more Jaminjung and Ngarinyman. Especially Jaminjung. I'd never really heard that language before this week. It's really different to any other language I've come across.

These are the nerdy things that linguists get off on - hearing new languages. woo!

November 06, 2008

Letter writing

Well I finally sent off my letters to a bunch of politicians about this new English teaching policy that pretty much excludes Indigenous languages and bilingual education. It's the first time I've had a go at writing letters to pollies - don't know if it has any effect, but I'm glad I did. I also had a little letter-to-the-ed published in the Katherine Times yesterday which is good. Here are the letters I sent to the pollies - it's in English and Kriol (what better way to make a statement about Indigenous languages and bilingual education than to make your statement bilingual!).

Ps. If anyone has any tips on better ways to get such messages to pollies, pls let me know.


Dear so-n-so,

The Northern Territory Minister for Education and Training, Marion Scrymgour, recently issued a directive that the first four hours of education in all NT schools will be conducted in English in an attempt to improve English
literacy outcomes in remote schoools. (Media release issued 14/10/08,

While I, like every other Territorian, wish to see dramatic improvements in English literacy levels in the bush, I am appalled by the method the Minister is employing to achieve this. It is misguided, ill-informed, rude and disrespectful. I want to highlight this issue with you in the hope that you can influence the Minister and the Northern Territory Government to reneg on this flawed decision.

Indigenous people, just like anyone, have the right to be educated in their own language if they desire. With the Minister's directive, she is taking away the basic right for Indigenous people across the Territory to speak, teach in, and learn in their own languages. Before lunch, that is. From the Yolngu to the Arrernte to the Tiwi to the Burarra to the Murrinh Patha to the Warlpiri to the Alyawarre and many more – I am deeply concerned for all Indigenous people who work in NT Schools and speak their own Indigenous language in NT Schools – those who use bilingual education to maintain their language and teach English, those who realise how fruitless it is to educate a 4-year old in a foreign language, the old men who go to school to teach their traditional dances and songs, the mums and grandparents who speak Language to their kids and grandkids in order to unravel the mysteries of Westerners and Western education, those who cry about the ongoing devastation of their language and culture and utilise their school to provide a balanced education to their own children via the myriad of Indigenous Language and Culture programs that exist in NT Schools.

I am a qualified linguist who lived in Ngukurr community for three years and have worked in language revitalisation in a number of other communities in the Katherine Region over the last six years and am a fluent speaker of an Indigenous language, Kriol, and partial speaker of a number of other Indigenous languages. I know first hand the benefit of delivering training and education in Aboriginal people's first language as I do it regularly and achieve results. Learning English and speaking an Indigenous language are not mutually exclusive. In fact, my personal experience tells me the opposite – I see how easy it is for Indigenous students to engage with education and training when I deliver it in their language, rather than a foreign language. It's a great way to teach and learn. Why is the NT Government denying Aboriginal people significant opportunities to learn and teach this way?

What does the Minister's directive mean for the Indigenous teachers working in remote schools? Will Indigenous teachers for forced to speak only English (until 12:30pm) to their own students who are their own kin in their own community school? Governments do not have the right to dictate to Indigenous people the language they must speak to their own people in their own school.

I am very concerned about the impact this policy will have for bilingual education in NT Schools. Since it's inception in the 1970s, bilingual education in NT Schools has brought an enormous amount of education, training, employment, resources, confidence and empowerment to Indigenous students and Indigenous teaching staff – is it now all over? What about the culture days run in numerous schools – Will the old men who go to schools to teach local songs and dances now have to teach in English or come back after lunch? This shows little respect. Do Aboriginal teaching assistants now have to just stand by in silence while they watch their kids struggle to understand their monolingual English-speaking teacher when some simple instructions in their own language will set off the lightbulbs required for kids to engage with their education? Will we now go back to the days when people are punished for speaking their language in schools? Will students who go on excursions to important cultural sites be forced to speak only English while on their own country (until 12:30pm)? The thought of these things happening in NT Schools makes me ashamed of the Territory and Federal Governments I voted for.

I urge you take action to redress this policy. It is morally reprehensible as it breaches the rights of minority groups to be educated in their own language and and is seriously misguided in terms of ESL education methodology. I would be happy to provide you with further information on these issues.

Ngulajuku (Warlpiri – that's all),
Bilinu, yakaŋunu dhärukmuru (Wägilak – that's all, no story now),
Bonj (Dalabon – that's all),
Jahbony (Ngalakgan – that's all),
Murru mandi (Alawa – finish now),
Guda mingi (Marra – finish now),
Jaldu na (Kriol – that's all now),
Marntaj (Gurindji – that's all),
Wiiya (Nunggubuyu – that's all),



Dear so-n-so,

Marion Scrymgour, im det Minista bla Education en Treining la Northern Territory, bin jendim mesij weya im tok 'ola skul titja langa NT garra tok onli
from Ingglish raitap dinataim' blanga trai en album ola sjuden la bush
bla len Ingglish mo beda. (Yu gin luk det stori la intanet la:

Wal mi, laik ebribodi iya la NT, wandim ola blekbala la bush komyunidi bla sabi Ingglish brabliwei bat mi brabli nogudbinji bla wijei det Minista regin im beswei bla alabat bla len Ingglish. Im rongwei en maiyul en nomo garrim eni rispek. Ai wandi dalim yu bla wanim im duwing dumaji maitbi yu gin duwum samting bal stabum det Minista from meigimbat rong.

Blekbala, seim laik munanga, garrim det 'right' blanga tjusim wijan langgus thei wandim bla alabat biginini education. Bat det mesij bla det Minista, im teikidawei det 'right' blanga blekbala ol oba dijan NT, bla tok, titj en len burrum alabat oun langgus. Bifo dina, ai min. Yolŋumob, Arrerntemob, Tiwimob, Burarramob, Murrinh-Pathamob, Alyawarremob – bigismob – ai fil sori bla ol detlot blekbala weya thei wek langa skul en sabi tok thei langgus. Detmob weya thei wek la 'bilingual' skul blanga meigim thei langgus strongwan en titjim det Ingglish gudwei. Detmob hu sabi im no yus titjing lilwanlilwan biginini burrum Ingglish wen im nomo sabi eni Ingglish. Detlot olmenolmen hu oldei gu la skul bla titjim bunggul. Detlot mami, gagu en abuji weya thei tok langgus langa bigininimob dumaji detlot biginini oldei bigis kwesjinmak la skul. Detlot pipul weya thei krai dumaji alabat langgus en kaltja guweiguwei en thei yusim alabat skul bla gibit alabat biginini tjens bla len tu wei garrim olkainaba langgus en kaltja lesin.

Mi linggwis en ai bin jidan la Ropa bla thri yiya en ai bin wek langa najalot komyunidi la Katherrain eriya bla langgus bla siks yiya en mi sabi tok Kriol en lilbit bla najalot blekbala langgus du. Ai sabi brabliwei det im gudwan wen yu titjim blekbala garrim alabat oun langgus dumaji ai oldei duwum lagijat na en im rait. Yu gin isi len Ingglish en tok langgus seimteim. Trubala, garrim main oun ai ai bin luk. Ai bin luk im isi bla blekbala bla len wen det titja im tok burrum alabat oun langgus en nomo det langgus burrum natha kantri. Im brabli gudwei bla titj en bla len. Wotfo det NT Gabmen kaan gibit blekbala tjens bla len lagijat?

Wanim det mesij from det Minista min blanga ola blekbala tijta langa bush skul? Maitbi im min blekbala tijtamob oni lau bla tok burrum Ingglish wen alabat tok la alabat oun femlimob la alabat oun skul. Gabmen mob nomo garrim eni 'right' bla dalim najamob blekbala wijan langgus thei lau bla tok la alabat oun pipul la alabat oun skul.

Mi brabli nogudbinji dumaji maitbi dijan garra binijimap ola bailingwul skul la NT o wanim? Ola treining, ejukeishin, bukmob, 'pride' en pawa diskain titjing bin gibit blekbala sjuden en titja. Im 'all for nothing' maitbi. Wanim bla ola kaltja dei yu faindim la lorra skul? Detlot olmen weya thei gu la skul bla bunggul – alabat garra tok burrum Ingglish o kambek aftanuntaim na maitbi. Nomo garrim eni rispek tharran jeya. Ola assistant titja mob – wanim alabat garra du na? Jidan kwait wen thei luk alabat biginini basbreins dumaji alabat titja tok oni from Ingglish. Alabat perensmob sabi if thei ekspleinimbat la biginini from langgus alabat garra sabi en len gudwei. Maitbi im garra bi seim laik oldeis wen munanga bin panishim blekbala ebritaim thei bin tok langgus la skul. Maitbi wen bigininimob gu la bush garrim skulmob bla luk kantri, alabat garra tok oni from Ingglish. Wen mi jinggibat im garra hepin lagijat, mi gulijap baku.

Ai askim yu bla duwum samting bla tjeinjim det Minista main. Im nogudbala ting en im teikidawei pawa from detlot pipul weya thei nomo garrim maj pawa bat thei wandim alabat langgus la alabat skul. Nathawei, im nogudwei bla titjim biginini Ingglish wen thei sabi tok oni alabat oun langgus. Bunju yu wandim, ai gin gibit yu lorra infameishin bla lenim yu bla diskain.

Ngulajuku (Warlpiri – jaldu na),
Bilinu, yakaŋunu dhärukmuru (Wägilak – Jaldu, no stori na),
Bonj (Dalabon – jaldu),
Jahbony (Ngalakgan – jaldu),
Murru mandi (Alawa – najing na),
Guda mingi (Marra – najing na),
Sincerely (Ingglish – jaldu na),
Marntaj (Gurindji – jaldu),
Wiiya (Nunggubuyu – jaldu),
Jaldu na,

November 04, 2008

Friends of Bilingual Learning

Earlier this eyar, an informal network sprung up in the Top End called 'Friends of Bilingual Learning'. This was thanks people who work for the excellent ARDS (Aboriginal Resource Development Services). Also related is Tim Trudgen's blog, found here. I like that the 'Friends of Bilingual Learning' group is about bilingual learning, not just bilingual education. In all my years at Ngukurr, I used the local lingua franca, Kriol, as much as possible while delivering on-the-job training to the language mob there. What better way to describe what orthography or transcription means than to give a Kriol definition!

So with the NT Govt's recent implicit attack on Bilingual Education, budding networks like Friends of Bilingual Learning have become rather relevant and important. They've started a Google group which I encourage anyone in the NT (or elsewhere) who is an active supporter of Bilingual education to join. If you join the group, you'll find a bunch of informative documents and letters to Marion Scrymgour that have sprung up as a result of her recent bright idea of having only English as the medium of instruction for the first four hours every day in all NT School. Check out Friends of Bilingual Learning on Google groups here.