It is written


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2017

It is written in the language

Pirlirrpa pirrjirti
Ltherrk narlkwelwelhem 
These words are not spelling mistakes they are words from our first people’s language. The first line is in the Warlipri language. The second line says the same in the language of the Anmatyerr. 
In a tiny township about half a tank full of fuel north of Alice Springs most families speak one, as a first language, and the other as a second. Children grow up hearing these languages and by the time they start school they are multi lingual. The words can be written, as you see, but it is unusual for the language to appear in print as it does here. Each language has a printed dictionary, but first people native to the language do not need them. 
This is a township in Australia so it is natural for the children to see written signs, labels, packaging, logos in English, as we all do, but generally books and newsprint are seldom seen. In time, when these children start school they do not have the years of familiar reading experience most southern Australian families provide. For these children English is their third language. Some people fluently speak three or more languages, but the majority of us only speak one language at home so we have little idea how clever these children are to grasp even a smattering of English. I dare say most of us would struggle to read fluently with this as our background. 
It is for this reason a rolling pair of grandparents visit the school in the cooler months for a month at a time to help the kids learn to read. All we do is all many parents and grandparents do, we take every opportunity to listen to each child in the school read each day. It is not onerous and it is effective in relieving busy teachers, however its effectiveness in assisting children read is marginal. Oral reading does assist children reach fluency and it is commonly practiced until children reach competency for silent reading, but to be effective it is necessary to have daily practice. 
We know, from our previous visit, last year’s eager readers are not alway the same children this year. Family, cultural, sporting, or just life style choices interfere with a teacher’s daily program. It really doesn’t matter which school a child attends it is just as true here as it is there. Regular school attendance helps with development especially reading. Our tiny sample illustrates the dangers of absenteeism. 
This neatly brings us back to the Anmatyerr and Warlipri words at the beginning. This school, like most, has a school motto. Strong heart, Strong head, Strong spirit. The school is specialising in literacy, numeracy, and culture. The children are taught about their motto in the two aboriginal languages and in English. At my school we learned about our school motto in English and Latin. I think this learning is more appropriate. 

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