Photo Credit: Kate Reitzenstein
Say kaya or hello to Noongar! Education Perfect is proud to announce the release of our first official Australian Language content! This has been an exciting project for the Education Perfect Languages Team and is the beginning of what we hope will be a rich bank of Australian Languages for future generations.
We are extremely grateful to Sharon Gregory, Noongar Language teacher and author of our eagerly anticipated Noongar content and Kate Reitzenstein, AISWA Languages Consultant and President of the MLTAWA, for their contribution to this exciting project. To celebrate we spoke to them and some other members of the Walyalap Waangkan Noongar language Group about the Noongar culture, the importance of language preservation and teaching traditional languages in a modern age, here's what they had to say.
The Noongar people have a rich history and culture having lived in Western Australia for over 45,000 years, despite this, Noongar will still be unfamiliar for many. For Sharon, Kate and the members of WWN there’s a lot to love about the Noongar and a deep connection to the culture.
“When Aboriginal people sit together in a group and they don’t know each other when they start talking about who their family is, nearly every person in that group is connected to one of those families through blood or through marriage. There is that massive connection of families” explains Sharon. Not only are there strong family connections but intergenerational bonds are formed and historical injustices can be overcome. Sharon works in Wandoo prison and when the boys speak to the Elders in Noongar their eyes often well with tears when they hear their language, something they were never allowed to speak growing up.
For Kate, learning Noongar is a “third space for reconciliation” learning about the culture from the outside is one thing but for her learning the language and being immersed in the culture is deeper and more meaningful.
There is no doubt that the evolution of education in the digital space has changed the way students and teachers engage in learning, including the learning of traditional languages like Noongar. For Kate there are a number of benefits to taking Noongar to a digital platform, including the opportunity for children to create their own resources and “it allows networks to be created well beyond the local level, but also at an interstate and international level. It also allows a space where people can use the language and keep it alive. If you did a search using #noongar on Twitter or Facebook now you would come up with thousands of items, whereas a few years ago you would find hardly anything”.
Elaine and Tim, from the WWN Language group, share a similar sentiment. Not only do digital platforms do away with big, thick books they also allow people to keep up to date with events and create immediate connections irrespective of location.
These digital resources and communities allow so many more people to come into contact with indigenous languages and seemingly by default also create carefully curated ways to preserve these languages. As Derek explains “language is intimately connected with culture, if language dies, then culture dies”.
As many indigenous cultures know the arrival of European settlers have greatly impacted on the connection to identity and place. Places were often named on first impressions or superficialities, and as Kate, a Swan River local, explains this misplaces the identity and cultural significance of a place.
“Using wadjela (white people) words like ‘Swan River’ are limiting. Named by the British after seeing it inhabited by black swans… Whereas when you learn words like Wadjemup and Derbal Yerrigan and what that deeper meaning is, you’re seeing the world through a Noongar lens”
For Tim seeing Noongar in a public place “is a very strong reminder that there was a culture here before”
While preservation for Sharon is a deeply emotional subject. As she explains “families have been fractured through the Stolen Generation. They were never allowed to speak their language and now they are”, for many of the Noongar people it has left them disconnected from and unwilling to speak their own language. Something certainly not lost in her own teaching experiences, “I remember when I was teaching the kids at Caralee and one of the boys would go home and speak a bit of language and some of the aunties said ‘Shut up you don’t need to talk that here’ but the old nanna she says ‘Oh I can remember that word!’. When we had an Open Day he brought his Nanna up to the language class and got out his book and they sat there and he read her stories in language and she cried the whole time. And so that’s why it is important to learn Noongar.”
Now that students have access to Noongar on Education Perfect Kate, Sharon, and the members of the WWN Language Group all agreed that this would be positive for both students and teachers. Students’ curiosity will be peaked as they make connections to the local area and the land, while teachers will have a consistent guide for Noongar and another means of connecting to the Noongar community.
We hope your students’ enjoy learning about this wonderful Australian Language as much as we have enjoyed the journey to bring it to you! You can take a look at our brand new Noongar content here, and if you have any questions or feedback you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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