A series of Language Awareness Pamphlets has been prepared with attached notes and suggestions for teachers. These may be a great starting point for discussions about language awareness with educators, community and students. See attached PDF files below.
An awareness of language and about languages is useful for everybody involved in education: teachers and students as well as the community, educational systems (national, state, regional and local areas), teacher aides, administration, school staff, universities and other education training facilities. It is important to have an awareness of the diversity of language varieties students can bring with them as well as an awareness of the critical role language plays in communicating and understanding.
Language awareness is fundamental to knowing who our learners are: In getting to know our students and how best to support their learning, we need to understand what language(s) they bring with them to school. It cannot be assumed, particularly in Queensland, that all learners come through the classroom door speaking the same language as their teachers.
A thorough awareness of different varieties of language is extremely important so that Indigenous students’ language backgrounds are properly understood. Although some varieties (eg. traditional Indigenous languages) differ in obvious ways from Standard Australian English (SAE), other varieties (eg. Yumpla Tok - aka Torres Strait Creole, or Yarrie Lingo, spoken at Yarrabah) may appear to be superficially somewhat similar. Language awareness therefore encompasses the range of ways in which people use language, where and when and which language, and the ways it is directly associated with power and access to education, services and employment.
Having an awareness about what actually constitutes a “language” , is critical. “Knowing a language” implies the ability to use a linguistic system in its totality: the ways in which sounds combine into words and these take endings and function words to become groups which can be placed in clauses and used to convey meaning according to culturally specific social purposes etc. To acquire fluency in a second language requires learners to build knowledge of all these different “layers” and this takes many, many years for academic purposes.
Educators who have developed “language awareness” have developed their understanding of the scope of language and its role in all classroom learning. Their awareness of language assists them to highlight language and languages in their conversations and planning, as they are aware of the potential for success in using particular language(s) for a variety of purposes and in a range of contexts. Educators with “language awareness” demonstrate an interest in language and all its varieties. They can value
- students’ language(s) of heritage,
- students’ language(s) of everyday interactions with their family &/or community &/or their peers
- students’ language of schooling.
“Language-aware” teachers know that knowledge of SAE provides great opportunities to pursue pathways for further learning at school and beyond, access to all mainstream services in Australia, and (increasingly) possibilities for international interactions (such as on the web).
Teachers with “language awareness” have understandings that enable them to value that their Indigenous students’ may have rich and complex language backgrounds, even though they may be enrolled as English speakers. Across much of Australia, language use has shifted away from traditional languages over to mixed, creolised or related varieties. These linguistic varieties are the result of contact between languages, and so have obvious influences from traditional Indigenous languages as well as from English, the colonial language of Australia. “Language awareness” for teachers of Indigenous students implies an appreciation of such varieties as vibrant means of communication in their own right, as well as powerful markers of modern day Indigenous identity and belonging to community.
Teachers need to have awareness about the varieties of languages that their students bring to school in order to enhance their teaching so they optimally support their students’ learning processes. Through language awareness, teachers can be attuned to language difference (as opposed to errors) and are therefore able to recognise when students are expressing themselves in non-SAE ways. Teachers can then develop strategies to encourage students’ interest and pride in language differences in order to motivate engagement in learning about language, including SAE. Language Awareness can bring to the attention of all educators the distance that some students have to travel just to access what is being taught.
Raising awareness about the diversity of language backgrounds in classrooms and schools is an issue for educators and students alike. Language awareness involves far more than just the recognition of students’ language(s) (which in itself may not be a simple task do to the language shift amongst Indigenous groups in many areas). It also needs to acknowledge the way in which historical events have influenced both the Indigenous language and culture of the student as well as how these events have shaped the perceptions of teachers, students and families and schools. In particular, educators need to consider how some language varieties have been positioned negatively - so much so that they have not been valued or even barely been recognised, whereas some have been valued positively.
Conversations about language(s) are hugely significant for the achievement of Indigenous students who are expected to achieve through SAE, a language variety that they do not speak, and sometimes do not relate to. Language awareness activities and discussions need to be approached thoughtfully so that understandings can be grown about the richness of the students’ language backgrounds and how their language varieties reflect their life experiences, identity and culture.