Establishing a sense of belonging through language

Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Learning to read is something that many of us take for granted. But what if you already speak two or three languages other than English before you start school? And what if there were no books at all published in your first languages?

This is the reality for many Indigenous children living in remote communities. And it’s something that our Foundation is passionate about changing. 

Through our Book Buzz program, an early literacy learning program aimed at babies and toddlers, we’ve been supporting communities across the country to translate old favourites into first languages. Our Early Literacy Manager Linda and Program Coordinator Laura, recently sat down to chat about their work facilitating the translation of books. 

“Twenty-three of our Book Buzz books have been translated into eleven different Indigenous languages, including three different versions of Kriol,” Linda tells us, “So many of the communities we work with are keen to translate books into their languages, because those languages are often much more commonly spoken than English.”

As our Book Buzz program continues to grow and reach more playgroups in different communities, so does the interest in translating.

“We’re currently working on ten more translation projects, and have recently sent stickers off to print for eight more books in three different dialects of Kriol - Jilkminggan, Ngukurr, and Wugularr,” says Laura, “It’s incredibly exciting. It’s a community led process - communities identify which book the kids really enjoy and they approach us about getting copies with translation stickers inside. They then do the translation, and we facilitate the logistics and the stickering of the books."

Often this is a long process, as some English words don’t exist in Indigenous languages.

“It’s really interesting to see how people approach translating a word that doesn’t exist. It’s often a matter of communities knowing what a word means in English, and then having to find something in language that can relate and take on that meaning,” explains Laura, “So for that reason it’s not always going to be a direct translation word-for-word translation, but it really shows the adaptability of language, and the work and effort that communities put into translating these books for their babies and toddlers.”

This not only helps develop those critical early literacy skills, but also establishes a sense of belonging through language.

“Children start to learn to read way way back when they’re babies - and people often underestimate that,” explains Linda, “And so seeing the words written side-by-side, it helps them to recognise and understand language and language patterns in both languages.”

“And it also establishes their sense of belonging. Children can look at these books, see their own languages and think ‘Wow! This is a part of me,’ and it’s pretty incredible to be a part of facilitating that moment.”

  • Posted 30 July, 2020