Learning another language (variety) is a developmental process that occurs over time.
As part of this language acquisition process, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who are learning Standard Australian English (SAE) will often reflect some of the language features from their home language in their attempts at SAE in the classroom.
These may be evident in all aspects of their language use, such as the production of specific speech sounds, word endings, phrase and sentence structures, word meanings and cultural uses, including genres.
It is vital that students’ status as language learners be acknowledged and that their approximations be accepted as a valuable and necessary process in their learning of SAE.
As teachers note and develop their understandings of linguistic differences between SAE and students’ home languages, they will be able to predict language features in planned activities or tasks for which students will require explicit language teaching and scaffolding.
Good practice for teaching English language in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian contexts requires:
- language awareness—raising awareness of students’ home languages, acknowledging creoles and non-standard varieties as valid, recognising language differences
- familiarising students with the language requirements for units of work or tasks—orally deconstructing a relevant text, then jointly reconstructing it before students write independently
- explicitly teaching features of SAE that students are finding difficult or are not producing in their speaking or writing.
The Curriculum Guidelines for English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) learners provides much information and guidance on these approaches.
Approaches that take into account Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students’ language and cultural backgrounds, as well as their prior experiences and individual interests, acknowledge educators’ responsibilities for making the curriculum they offer accessible, engaging and relevant for all children.