Episode 198

Indigenous Language in Your Classroom

Recorded by | Run time: 30 min, 36 sec


Joining me today is Jordyn, an Aboriginal Australian Wiradjuri woman and teacher to talk about Indigenous language in the classroom. Jordyn runs an awesome Instagram page called Learning to Ngangaanha, where she shares about Aboriginal culture, Indigenous languages, lesson ideas and resources, as well as personal insights into her life as an educator.

Across the Australian Curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures priority provides opportunities for all learners to deepen their knowledge of Australia by engaging in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.

As teachers, we understand our responsibility to embed teaching and learning about First Nations Cultures across the learning areas.

Within the learning area of English, Jordyn is particularly passionate about helping her students to develop an awareness and appreciation of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature. This includes storytelling traditions (oral narrative) and contemporary literature.

Indigenous language Jordyn

In this episode, Jordyn is going to take us through ways teachers can help their students make connections to people, culture and Country, to expand the breadth of their learning to focus on histories and perspectives of Indigenous Australians.

The Australian Curriculum website provides more information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures priority:

Indigenous Language in the Classroom – Full Episode Transcript

Jordyn: Before I begin,  I’d just like to acknowledge Country. I’m coming to you from beautiful Yugambeh Country today, and I’d like to pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging who have cared for Country for thousands of years and will continue spiritual and sacred relationships with the land, sky and waterways of this area.

Bron: Joining me today is Jordyn. Jordyn runs an awesome Instagram page called Learning to Ngangaanha where she shares about Aboriginal culture, languages, lesson ideas, and resources, as well as her personal insights into her life as an educator across the Australian curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures priority provides opportunities for all learners to deepen their knowledge of Australia by engaging in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest, continuous living cultures.

In this episode, Jordyn is going to take us through ways teachers can help their students make connections to people, culture, and Country to expand the breadth of their learning and focus on histories and perspectives of indigenous people.

Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

Jordyn: Thank you for having me!

Bron: Jordyn, could you begin by telling us a little bit of background about yourself and your teaching career and your students and just how that looks in your life at the moment?

Jordyn’s Teaching Experiences Across Australia

Jordyn: Okay. So my name is Jordyn. I am a Wiradjuri Ngemba Paakantji woman from New South Wales. Um, I grew up on Worami Country, and I went to university in Newcastle, which is Awabakal Country. And then after university, I moved over to Perth, which is Whadjuk Noongar Country. And I lived there for four years classroom teaching. And I also took on the role of Aboriginal education coordinator while I was there. Um, and I loved learning about culture and language working with the kids. So late last year, my partner and I decided we wanted to move back to the East coast just to be closer to our family.

Um, so we, I now work on Bundjalung Country, which is Northern New South Wales. And I work as an Aboriginal learning support teacher part time at the moment. Yeah. That’s pretty much my journey around Australia. I’ve done a lot of traveling. Um, yeah. Yeah. Awesome.

Bron: So I love talking to learning support teachers, cause I used to be an intervention teacher and it’s such a rewarding job to see the amount of growth kids can do in their time with you. But could you tell us a little bit about your students that you work with? Is it a small group intervention? Is it a whole class? How many kids do you see every day?

Learning Support Teaching with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students

Jordyn: So my kids at my new school, uh, between kindergarten and year six are all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, they have been perhaps struggling a little bit with some areas of the curriculum.

So in my discussions with their teachers will identify some areas that they could use some extra support from me. And when, um, I will say speak with the children and the parents, we create some goals and I try to link in, Aboriginal teaching strategies and, um, cultural content as well into their learning programs because they are Aboriginal and they just love learning about Aboriginal culture.

Really. I’ve seen a huge, um, change in their engagement, in their learning as soon as we make it anything cultural, um, or use cultural resources or books. Um, yeah, so that’s sort of what I’m doing now. And when I was in Perth, I was classroom teaching mostly. Um, um, I had a couple of years with a year four or five class and I had a five, six and a three, four class so mostly middle upper primary. Yes.

Bron: So was that just, was that general classroom teaching like mixed ability range?

Jordyn: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I was just, I was a mainstream teacher. I had Aboriginal students in my class. Um, but it was, um, a mainstream setting I suppose. And yeah, now I’ve taken a change just to work specifically would be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Bron: Oh, that’s awesome. Uh, and it sounds like what you’re doing at your school with your learning support students is actually seeing the results of closing that gap and your instrumental in making that connection with them, between the culture and their identity in a, in a school environment, which in turn, we know kids are always more engaged when they’re interested and, um, their brains are activated and they’re, they’re happy to learn because they feel comfortable and knowledgeable and like experts in some ways. So it’s really cool to hear that you’re doing that work with such little kids from kindergarten. So how old are your youngest students?

Jordyn: Oh, well my youngest student would probably be five turning, turning six. Yeah.

Bron: That is so great because, um, yeah, just getting kids involved and engaged and eager to learn from such a young age. I just am all about that kind of thing. How do you, um, I guess differentiate between your little ones and your big ones and how did it happen? What does that look like in your room? Do you have your own classroom, for example?

Jordyn: So I have a room that I work with the kids in. Um, I would love to be able to spend more time with each child and every teacher always says that more time, more things to learn. Um, so I have like a schedule where I’m, I’ve got a certain time that fits in with their class teacher, um, that I can pull the kids out to do these little lessons.

So the goal is that we’re working on a quite specific, um, the child in kindergarten that I was referring to, we’re learning to write her name and hold a pencil correctly. And so that it’s easier for her to write. So I just make it really fun and we’ll go, we actually sit out, I try to sit outside as much as I can with the kids, but, um, yeah, we’ll just write her name with big, huge ginormous letters or we’ll write them with little tiny, small letters and, um, make the letter formation into some sort of song like up high and then down low,  all these crazy things. So that’s not really, I haven’t added anything cultural into her lessons yet in regards to writing her name, but yeah, with the littleys, that’s how I would sort of approach their learning. Um, and then with the older kids, we are jumping right into talking about what Country is and making mind maps.

And we hang them all around the room. We go for walks on Country to observe what we see. I mean, our school is surrounded by sort of high rise buildings, but there are little snippets of where we can see the ocean and we can see trees. And we were talking about introduced trees and trees that were here in Australia before colonisation, and then perhaps creating like a little paragraph about that with some of their spelling words in it to make a dictation passage or something like that. And that’s sort of the path that I’ve taken with the older kids, but after, um, my little, um, young girl in kindergarten went once you’ve learnt her name and we’ll start jumping into some more talks about Country as well and, and go from there. And she’s only in her first semester of school. So it’s been, yeah, she’s just trying to learn, you know, what’s what school is about in their routines.

And I’ve been spending a lot of time with her just to help her with that transition as well, just to be that, um, smiley face. That’s always pops into check that she’s okay. And that’s actually made a big difference because it is such a vast transition for little ones, um, to come into a school setting and have to learn all those routines and procedures.

Bron: And I think that can be so overwhelming. I guess it’s about wellbeing as well, like about the child as a whole. So we’re going to talk a little bit about cross curriculum priorities later in the episode, because, and I think Jordyn, you must be all over that because you have to teach multi age and then all the curriculum areas. So that’s a lot of planning to adjust from the little ones right up to the big ones. So well done.

Learning to Ngangaanha

It sounds like you’re doing an incredible job and I can tell you love it by just listening to the way you talk about your students. Um, but I have been just scrolling through your Instagram page and loving every single post because you make these really creative, beautiful teaching resources for students, but you also make gorgeous, I guess, um, posts or memes, or I don’t know what you’d call them, but for teachers to help educate other teachers, um, about integrating Aboriginal culture history and perspectives into their classrooms in an effective and meaningful way.

And they’re sort of bite size snippets of information. So they’re very easy to implement and take on board. Um, and I think that through your Instagram, you’re doing such a great job of sharing your knowledge. And I know you said on Sarah’s, stories the other day that this is your perspective and everybody has their own views and they might vary, but I just think it’s really nice when teachers share their views and share their ideas online and that openness of sharing, um, in all areas of your Instagram handle is now I hope I pronounce this correctly, Learning to

Jordyn: Ngangaanha. It is a tricky one!

Bron: I actually tried to research what that means, but I couldn’t really bring much up online. So could you tell us what that word means?

Jordyn: Okay. So Ngangaanha is a word and it means to care for, or to look after or to have regards for something. So essentially my complete handle on Instagram is Learning to Ngangaanha, learning to care for learning to, um, look after.

And I suppose specifically for my Instagram, my take on it is, um, learning to care for, or look after ourselves, others, Country and culture. I sort of have broken it up into people, Country, culture effectively.

I had a teacher Instagram account for two years, but it wasn’t until last year about this time last year, actually that I wanted to change from having general classroom accounts to specifically Aboriginal culture and sharing what I know because I was having a lot of success at the school that I was working at in Perth with sharing my resources and sharing, um, my advice and my perspectives in Aboriginal education.

But it was obviously limited to the staff at my school. And when I started my journey moving back to the East coast, we went traveling around the top of Australia for a couple of months. And I thought, you know what? I want to change my Instagram to be specifically about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories, perspectives, and help as many teachers as I can to learn about it themselves.

And I’ll also link them to all of the resources that I know in addition to the resources that I also make. So, and all of those resources and lesson ideas all come back to the idea that, um, when we teach students about Aboriginal culture, we’re teaching them to care for Country care for one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world and caring for ourselves as people and caring for others. Yeah. So that is how it came to be about.

Bron: Oh, I love that. I think that’s really great that you break them down and so easy, I think for children to understand for students to understand as well. Um, so yeah, and I love the practical advice that you offer, as I said before, but also, um, helping teachers to start thinking about teaching some Aboriginal language in their classroom and bringing that into their, um, teaching daily practice.

Historical Destruction of Indigenous Language

Jordyn: So before colonisation or invasion, there were 250 or more actually languages spoken around Australia by all of the different Aboriginal groups. And within most of those or some of those groups, there would be even more dialects of that language. So, um, one language could have smaller groups within it that spoke dialects of that language, just like we have standard English and then we have Australian English and, uh, dialects of that. Um, so when, since colonisation Aboriginal people were told not to speak their languages pretty much and forced to learn English for many generations and then children that were stolen from their families were put into institutions.

And again also told not to speak Aboriginal language, you need to learn to speak English. So that has had… the reason I’m talking about that because that alone has had such a big impact on language being passed down generations. So growing up, I was not taught traditional Aboriginal language and many of my friends were not, especially in the areas of Australia that are, uh, very populated I suppose or urban.

If we think to remote areas of Australia, especially in the center in the Northern areas, well, that’s actually quite different. Aboriginal languages are their first second. Sometimes the, um, preferred languages in English is after that.

So I’ll just jump back to the sort of coastal areas or where areas have been more populated and all of those Aboriginal groups, well, some languages are classified as extinct now let’s just start off with that. And a lot of them are endangered with only a few fluent speaking, um, Aboriginal people in those communities.

Revitalising Indigenous Languages

So every group where this has happened is, is in a process of recording and saving and even digitalising those languages so that they can be learnt again, I suppose, by, by Aboriginal people. And every group is on their own, every nation is on their own journey of that.

So when I went over to Perth, um, the Noongar people had done quite a lot of recording of our language, and there was lots of resources made and face to face free lessons of those, of knowing our language was available for people to enrol in whether you were Aboriginal or not. So when I first got there, um, our local Aboriginal, um, organisation was hosting some free language lessons weekly, and I immediately enrolled in that and was learning Noongar language and had permission to then take what I had learned into the classroom to share with the kids.

And it was great. Having moved back to the East coast, I’ve realized or I’ve, um, I can see that some groups are at the more, uh, at the beginning of the journey of sort of revitalising languages and they are wanting to record and teach Aboriginal language to the local community first to strengthen it before it can be passed on to, um, non Aboriginal, non Aboriginal people.

And then there’s people between there in between, um, the Noongar, um, group over in Perth as well. So there’s just such a, uh, a spread of where all of these groups are in their revitalisation process. So me personally, I, um, am looking into learning Wiradjiri language, which is one of the groups that my family is from. And I’m, I suppose I’m really lucky that Wiradjiri language languages quite, um, well documented. And there is an amazing app called Wiradjiri, um, that I have been spending time on each day and each week sort of learning new words and it pronounces the words properly.

That’s actually where I, where I learned the word Ngangaangha from and how to pronounce it. And then I’ve checked with my Nan who has a, um, Wiradjiri dictionary to check that the meaning was correct. And that that’s sort of where I am on my personal journey of learning Aboriginal language is so important.

Bron: And it’s such a shame that it has been damaged. You know, some languages have been so damaged, but it’s, I have a lot of hope that, um, that with the recordings of elders talking the language and so on that we can learn a lot about these languages again and continue to strengthen them. Yeah. And with the technologies that we have at the moment at our disposal, like apps, voice recording programs, that kind of thing. Yeah. It is a great time to be able to revitalise the languages. Yeah. But thank you so much, Jordyn, for explaining that complex history and, um, the devastation that’s happened to Aboriginal languages because I guess that’s something that really, we need to highlight in order to move forward with educating students and ourselves and continuing to listen and learn, because as you said, every community is on its own individual journey to saving their language.

Learning Indigenous Language as an Adult

And when you, when you were saying before that people were told not to speak their language and, um, so devastating that that’s just lost. So I can only, I can’t imagine how you must feel, how does your mum feel for example, that you’re beginning to learn your people’s language as an adult?

Jordyn: Well, I mean, firstly, she’s, she’s very proud as is mine. Then they love that I’ve been able to access all of these resources now that are available now that they didn’t have access to, to do this. And I have a younger sister too, and we’re on the same journey of learning Wiradjuri. Um, but my, um, mum herself, um, was working, she’s a teacher primary teacher now. And prior to that, she was working as an Aboriginal education officer at the local high school from the town that I grew up in.

And she, um, enrolled in a TAFE language course of Gathang, which is the local Aboriginal language and completed that course, but yes. Um, and then was able to take that into her school. So we both learnt languages or actively sought out programs that we could enroll in to learn the local Aboriginal language of the areas that we’ve worked at, even though we’re not from our, our families from those areas.

But, um, that’s because that both of these programs were open for anybody to enrol in, which is great. And, and it has been hugely beneficial bringing that back into the schools for the kids. Some, most of which will be from whose families are from that area. So yeah. Yeah. It’s like a big picture kind of thing. We’re learning it, but we’re, we’re learning it mostly to pass on to the kids from that area, if that makes sense.

Bron: Oh, absolutely. And yeah, you are from such a strong, family of women, obviously love learning yourself. Do you take on language easily? And how I say some people are, their brains are wired to pick up languages more easily than others. Do you think that, that you’re one of those people?

Jordyn: Um, I, I can pick up the words and know how to sort of write them down or I can visualise it in my head, but the pronunciation is the hardest bit because there are sounds in these Aboriginal languages that we just don’t have in English. Um, especially that ng sounds like at the end of the word sing that, um, in English, that would be mostly at the end of words, but then in Aboriginal languages it can it’s, it starts a lot of words like ngangaanha, for instance.

Bron: So great to have that ongoing flow on effect for your students.  And I guess teaching is a lot about leading by example. So we take taking on new knowledge ourselves and then passing that on to our kids is just awesome modeling.

Jordyn, if non-indigenous and indigenous teachers are wanting to integrate some indigenous language learning into their classrooms, whether that’s a general classroom or a special education classroom or an early years classroom, you’ve got some ideas on your Instagram page.

Where to Start with Learning and Teaching Indigenous Language

Could you just take us through some of those apps also, I’d love to hear some information about the map of Indigenous Australia and how that shows the kind of delineations between different groups and then, um, yeah, just where do you seek your lesson ideas or your language learning information for your students?

Jordyn: Yeah, so I suppose the step is to know the, um, the Aboriginal nation that you’re working on in living on, um, and what language they speak.

So I know for instance, uh, where am I people, um, on the mid North coast of New South Wales, their nation is called Worami, but the language that they speak has Gathang, and if you look at the map, the large map that you’re talking about of all of the different Aboriginal languages, um, when you look at the map, you will see Worami groups, and that will be written with those names, but the language that they speak is actually Gathang. And yes, so the map itself is great as a big, huge visualisation of just how many Aboriginal groups there are.

I have one in my classroom I’ve purchased the maps for all of the classrooms at my new school, so that every classroom shows also that kids are just, you know, aware of how many groups there, I think, because we say Aboriginal people that unless you’d go show them the map and go through that explicitly with the kids, they will think that we’re all the same because we’re using the word Aboriginal for every all Aboriginal groups, the number one, finding out the name of the group and what language they speak.

And it might not be written exactly or perfectly on the map. Um, that map is based on a lot of research done up until 1994. I’m not exact about that, but, um, the creators of that map have done the absolute best to find out all of the, all of those groups and approximate spellings, because spellings can be different based on pronunciation and how they’ve been recorded with English letters.

Um, and that would be such a hard job to try and make that map. But I always like to tell people when I, when I showed them the map that it needs a guide, it’s great visually, but even the boundaries are not meant to be exact. And the spellings and not meant to be the one and only spelling as we’re, um, learning about all the different Aboriginal groups, they might, um, have been recorded in a certain way on that map, for instance,  Worami and Biripi?

And even though you can bet people up in the Gold Coast, uh, a group within the Bundjalung nation, which is why they’re shown as part of the Bundjalung nation on that map, but they spoke a different dialect, um, or their, their smaller clan within that nation.

And when I’ve been learning about the local Aboriginal people, because that’s the area that I live in, I inquired about why their shine is Bundjalung on the map, but I’ve heard them refer to themselves as Yugumbeh. “Is that how you would prefer to be referred to?” And they said, “Yes, we are, yes a part of the Bundjalung Nation, but we’re a smaller clan and we prefer to be referred to as that, but that won’t be on the map.”

So the map is great. Use it to sort of narrow down your area, but you, um, do some research to find out how your like Aboriginal group who would like to be referred to.

And then also, um, what is the name of the language that your Aboriginal groups speak? And then from there you can start to do some research to find any online resources or resource within a library with some, um, Aboriginal language words in pronunciation is, is really hard to, um, grapple with, by just reading the word.

How to Bring Indigenous Language into your Classroom

So if there’s any opportunity for you to attend local language lessons or to invite, um, local Aboriginal community members that speak the language into the classroom, um, or even just to arrange a meeting, to get some advice on how to say those words properly, I would definitely recommend that you do that so that you are teaching them correctly to your class, but it is certainly doable. It takes a little bit of research and, um, you know, it, but it’s so worth it in the end. And those words can be used all throughout your day.

You can learn some counting numbers, perhaps like one, two, three, four by some Aboriginal groups that have numbers one, two, three, four, and five. And then the number off to that simply means many or more than that. You can use those words when you, when you know how to say them properly to do your countdown, when you’re asking your kids to pack up and come down to the mat. And, you know, we normally like three, two, one, well, why not learn those words in the local Aboriginal language?

And, um, yeah, I mean, there’s heaps of ways. Seasons is another one. Um, but yeah, a little bit of effort to find out how to say them properly and in what the words are, but yeah, well, I think really recommend doing that.

Bron: Teachers love to research and to find out about things. So that’s definitely something that’s very doable, as you said, um, we need to be respectful and, um, acknowledge how the people, themselves, wish to identify and for our students as well.

So just getting to know your, your area, Jordyn, and then we’ll talk next episode about how to make connections with Aboriginal community members in your local area and how to approach that and invite them possibly into your classroom to teach your kids. Because I think as you said, that is really important, especially around language that you’re teaching the correct pronunciation. And thank you so much for talking with us a little bit about language and we are looking forward to seeing you again soon to talk about making connections within your community.

Jordyn: Thank you for having me!


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