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Native Tongues

Wendy Baarda of Yuendumu, Northern Territory, loves her work. For the past twenty seven years she has been teaching. Her school is unique in that it has been a bilingual school since 1974. It is one of approximately twenty in the Northern Territory. The second language that is spoken? English! The town of Yuendumu is home to the Warlpiri Aboriginals and the children are taught until grade three in their native language.

A push by the educational system to drop the bilingual programs two years ago was met with strong resistance by educators and the families served by the program. The thought behind this was that it is more effective to have children from non-English speaking backgrounds beginning to speak English at an early age.

In her teaching experience, Wendy has observed positive outcomes by instructing primary children in their native Warlpiri. “They learn to read and work with numbers in a language they understand. Learning a second language then becomes less complicated if you’re not having to learn to read in that language as well.”

And, does speaking in the Warlpiri language help to preserve the culture? Wendy believes it does. As children grow in the knowledge of their ancestors, they develop a pride in their heritage. They seem much more comfortable in their early school years, being taught by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers in a team teaching situation. “Children will have a better chance to preserve their native language in a bilingual school. Unfortunately, to date, many native languages have been lost.” And, as Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals share in the education process, perhaps a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultures can be found.

Suggested activities: Research the country of your ancestors or a country you find interesting. What are examples of that culture, its art, music, places of interest, people from the country who ‘made a difference.’ Interview a relative about life in that country. Learn a simple phrase from the language and teach it to your classmates.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 21, 2001 4:03 PM.

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