Translating Old Favourites into First Languages

Translating Old Favourites into First Languages

Something we absolutely love about our work is that we get to showcase the diversity and adaptability of Indigenous languages. Our Book Buzz team are currently working on translating eight books into three different dialects of Kriol, the most widely-spoken Aboriginal language in Australia today.

Spoken by an estimated 20,000 or more Aboriginal people in communities throughout a large part of northern Australia, Kriol is a real, full and vibrant language. And having books available in these languages is something our Early Literacy Manager Linda and Book Buzz Regional Coordinator Josie are passionate about.

“Twenty-three of our Book Buzz books have been translated into eleven different Indigenous languages, including three different versions of Kriol,” says Linda, “And we’ve got eight more books in the works.”

From Jilkminggan about 150km south-east of Katherine, Josie grew up speaking Kriol and English, and now works for the ILF helping to translate books and increase awareness of these languages.

“For Jilkminggan I’ve been doing a few of the translations,” Josie tells us, “Some other communities that speak Kriol do it themselves, because they’ve already got some workers who’ve done some translating in the past to help them. For other communities, like Jilky FaFT mob, they did other translations and I just helped with the spelling.”

For Linda, this is what makes our program really empowering for Indigenous people in remote communities.

“The communities lead the translation projects,” explains Linda, “They choose the books they want to translate, and decide how they want their language to look. We really just facilitate the process.”

The translations can often be quite a process, particularly for Kriol. With many different dialects spoken, the language can be spelt in many different ways.

“Kriol is just like any traditional language, it is oral, not written, so many of our mob haven't learnt to read or write in our first language,” explains Josie, “There is not much published or taught in Kriol, so the main spelling system is based on the Kriol Baibul (Bible) which was done by the Ngukurr community. And Kriol is phonetic, so when you read it, what you see is what you get, which is great.”

Our Foundation has been working with communities to spell Kriol as close to their way of speaking as possible, as this helps communities to learn to read, and become more confident in their own languages.

“Each community has a different way of speaking, so when you read something from somewhere else, it will be a little different but we can still understand each other when speaking,” says Josie, “But when you are learning to read Kriol, if it's in another language from another community, it can really slow down your learning when you come across a word that you don't use. So by using different spelling systems, we are trying something different - to kick start awareness, confidence and make our mob proud of their languages by doing the translations in that community's way of talking.”

This is why Linda believes the work we’re doing is so incredibly important.

“It is important for children and their families to see their own languages in print and to be able to read and write this language. For me, it’s incredibly exciting and incredibly personal to be a part of something that helps facilitate that," says Linda, “To put languages into books, and give access to those languages to children, it’s amazing to be part of that.”

Josie agrees, and reckons there is nothing better than seeing the books translated into Kriol.

“That’s why I took the job,” says Josie “I wanted to get the language out there and build awareness for our mob to learn their own language. I really reckon it’ll help - if our mob learn to read in their language first, it’ll be a big help to their education.” 


  • Posted 07 August, 2020

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