Posted by: u4499075 | September 15, 2009

‘Should children in remote Aboriginal communities be taught in their first language?’

This question was asked in a commentary section of an ABC News article: ‘Bilingual debate rages in NT’. It is the debate of whether children in remote Aboriginal communities should be taught their first Aboriginal language (their ‘mother tongue’) as well or only English, specifically in terms of disadvantage to the literacy and numeracy skills that children already lack in such communities.

Check it out at

For me the argument for ‘interdependence hypothesis’ comes to mind, as I understand it, where the development of the first language assists the learner in the acquisition of the second language.

Also, another thing to think about is the fact that by incorporating a first language into education, a learner is being empowered within their own culture – their own identity. A language is not lost on dying generations, but carried on or developed.

In the main text, Mesthrie et al. there is also reference to a table by UNESCO, from the document: ‘The Use of Vernacular Languages in Education’… which refers to the choice of language in education in the classroom. This is in Chapter 11, pages 357-359. Also, it is interesting to note in this discussion, about what in the 1953 publication viewed as ‘vernacular’ – there is some argument regarding this view.

Check out also the related ABC News article: Bilingual education changes hit roadblock, at



  1. You can watch the 4 Corners episode on this topic by going to iView ( It went to air last night so it should be available for another ten days or so. Luckily the program was very well made – the ABC really did their homework.

  2. I strongly agree with you that the use of first language in teaching children in the remote Aboriginal communities is important because the development of the first language assists the learner in the acquisition of the second language and empower the students within their culture as Cummins (2001: 18) notes “the teaching of mother tongue help developing both the students’ mother tongue and the children’s abilities in the majority of school language as well as developing self confidence in the classroom.” Apart from the above reasons, the use of first language in the classroom can also develop the students’ self esteem. Many students, especially those who come to the class with a very limited or even without any knowledge of the language used in the education system often feel alienated due to their ‘difference’ and lose their self confidence due to their inability to understand the instruction or to communicate with the teacher or the rest of the class.
    Using their first language can help accelerating the communication process as well as boosting their self-confidence. By doing this school has also play important role in preserving the culture of the minority groups or preventing the language of the minority group from being extinct among the children or youth.

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