Tanya Tucker says allowing students to speak and write in Aboriginal English makes them more confident. (ABC Goldfields: Madison Snow )
Imagine speaking English at home with your family, then starting school and being told you’ve been taught incorrectly; that has been the experience for many Aboriginal-English speakers.
- Aboriginal English is an official dialect of Australian Standard English
- Educators and academics want teachers trained in Aboriginal English to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous students
- An expert says the current education system is “setting people up to fail”
Since the early 1990s Aboriginal English has been recognised as one of over 160 official dialects of English, but strangely many people have never heard of it, including some of those who speak it.
The Aboriginal education team leader for Catholic Education Western Australia, Sharon Davis, said it was imperative that teachers understand Aboriginal English was a dialect.
She said recognising Aboriginal English in the classroom would allow the children to learn more, and become stronger Australian Standard English speakers.
East Kalgoorlie Primary School pre-primary students, James Stubbs and Te Ahi Haereroa, at LOTE class. (ABC Goldfields: Madison Snow )
Not broken English or slang
Ms Davis said holding the view that Aboriginal English was broken English, or slang, was not only incorrect but could have detrimental impacts on learning outcomes for Indigenous students.
“The more competent you are in your first language through reading and writing and speaking and listening, the better off you are in your second language, which therefore would be Australian Standard English,” she said.
“If kids are speaking Aboriginal English you might have different sounds, phenology, semantics and pragmatics that goes with it.”
Ms Davis said 80 per cent of Indigenous Australians were Aboriginal-English speakers and the way it was spoken varied based on different language groups.
“If you think about British English and the different dialects within that, like cockney and dialects from different areas, Aboriginal English is similar,” she said.
“The way Nyungar English is, [it] would be different to Broome lingo.
“There’s variety but also a lot of similarities to the way people speak Aboriginal English.”
Stems from British invasion
According to the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA), colonisers were reluctant to learn Aboriginal languages so Aboriginal people started learning English words.
Through that communication a simplified version of English formed called pidgin English.
East Kalgoorlie Primary School pre-primary student, Lionel Cameron, and LOTE teacher, Tanya Tucker. (ABC Goldfields: Madison Snow )
Over decades different Aboriginal groups started using pidgin English to communicate, and Aboriginal English eventually formed through the social and linguistic development of pidgin English.
But it was linguistically inaccurate and derogatory to refer to Aboriginal English as pidgin English.
East Kalgoorlie Primary School in the Goldfields region of WA places a special focus on Aboriginal English as it has a school population of 98 per cent Indigenous students.
The school’s LOTE teacher, Tanya Tucker, said she did not know she spoke Aboriginal English until she did her teacher training.
“I wasn’t a person who spoke a lot in the classroom so no one ever told me,” she said.
“If I didn’t know, how do the children know if they’re not told?”
Sharon Davis says Aboriginal English is deeply linked to Indigenous identity and country. (Supplied: Narragunnawali)
Setting-up students up for failure
Around the country, teachers have had access to language resources provided by state and territory governments, but training was not compulsory in most instances.
Private organisations, like the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre, have been able to provide more specialised linguistic and cultural knowledge.
Senior linguist at the centre, Sue Hanson, has been a teacher in remote WA for 20 years.
She said the only way children could acquire a high level of Australian Standard English was if they were taught about bilingualism, bidialectalism and code-switching.
Ms Hanson said it was imperative Aboriginal English was nurtured in the classroom, alongside Australian Standard English.
“It’s almost impossible to ask a teacher, who’s coming out of a Standard Australian English environment, to do that without training,” she said.
“People who are coming into a specialist education environment, like working in the Goldfields region, need to have the training and experience.”
Ms Hanson said the breakdown in understanding coud lead to Aboriginal students being mislabelled.
“Many Aboriginal children are labelled ‘problem children’ or are put in classes for children who are not achieving,” she said.
“When in fact we’ve set-up an environment that causes so much cognitive dissonance they can’t learn effectively and they’re disengaged with education.
“If a child is disengaged with education, they’re going to be disengaged their whole life.
“We’re setting people up for failure.”
Power in code-switching
Ms Tucker said understanding the difference between Australian Standard English and Aboriginal English allowed children to code-switch — the practice of alternating from one language or dialect to another.
“As Aboriginal people we code-switch all the time but we don’t know we’re doing it in a sense,” she said.
Sue Hanson and Jackie Coffin work with the Goldfields community on cultural and linguistic awareness. (ABC Goldfields: Madison Snow )
“When they become familiar it becomes a strong vehicle, or tool.
“They can code-switch whichever way they need to go depending on whether they’re going to a job interview, whether they’re speaking to a principal, or whether they’re speaking to their friends or their family.”
Ms Tucker said allowing children to express themselves in Aboriginal English in the classroom made learning more productive for the student, and therefore more rewarding for the teacher.
“If they’re able to speak Aboriginal English, the teacher will get so much information from them,” she said.
“If they’re writing in Aboriginal English they write the story in their train of thought.
“If they’re stopping and thinking, trying to talk in Australian Standard English and they’re thinking about what makes sense, they won’t get much writing done.”
Ms Tucker said Aboriginal English was not just about language, but was deeply connected to Aboriginal identity, culture and community.
“The more people understand about Aboriginal English and the more we’re implementing [it] in the education system, the better our children will be as Aboriginal people,” she said.
“They’ll become strong and confident and proud of their identity.”
Credit: Source link