Language of belonging

I found one of the most powerful aspects of the Bangarra show ‘Belong’ was the singing and voice overs in Language. It is rare for English-speaking Australians to hear Indigenous languages. Languages are very local. Usually they need to be used in a community of speakers, where people understand each other.  A dance setting allows language to become music. We no longer have to worry about whether we can understand the words. We enjoy listening to the sound, learning to hear it.

At a recent TESOL conference, I listened as a teacher read a story in the Karen language, which was completely new to me.  Supported by the pictures, I could follow enough of the story to stay interested.  My brain whirred away, trying to decode the unfamiliar phonemes.  It was not the same as having a story read to me when I understand the words, but it has its own appeal.

Though it feels strange to an adult, this must in fact be the experience that very young children have of being read to.  We don’t limit our reading to the vocabulary and grammar they have already mastered.  We read to them in language and about experiences that they have not had.  We read because written language can take us to times and places we have never been.

I think the first thing I need for an Indigenous perspective in my teaching is books.  Not books about Indigenous people and culture.  Just picture books, like other picture books, with stories about kids and families doing the stuff that kids and families do, but where the people and the settings are Indigenous people in their country.

I would like some of those books to be in Pitjantjara (because I can manage to pronounce it) so I can read to the children in Language, and let them learn to hear its sounds and patterns and music.

So I had better start looking to see if such books exist.

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