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Using sign and gesture to enhance pedagogy in an indigenous Australian language revitalisation setting

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Title: Using sign and gesture to enhance pedagogy in an indigenous Australian language revitalisation setting
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: The Darkinyung language of New South Wales, Australia has not been spoken for around a century. However in recent years a linguist and elders began to work to piece the language together from the available historical sources. This work resulted in the publication of a short dictionary and a sketch grammar.

This paper presents a study undertaken by me, in the role of teacher-researcher, determined to revitalise the linguistic link to culture for my own children and our community, and to develop ways in which Aboriginal students could begin to learn the language in school-based programs. We are all beginner learners. My action-research was conducted as a student in the Masters in Indigenous Languages Education program at the University of Sydney.

The revitalisation process is in its very earliest days for Darkinyung and, with limited resources available, I was keen to explore which might be the most effective methods for teaching language. I was interested to explore how the use of sign and gesture might support my students’ learning of Darkinyung as a second language. My interest stemmed from two sources. Firstly I have a hearing-impaired family member and so I’m a speaker of Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Secondly sign language is used in some Australian Aboriginal communities, not only by hearing-impaired people, but to compliment and at certain times, replace verbal communication.

For my research I used and adapted existing Auslan signs and created gestures which represented the vocabulary (nouns and verbs) that were the focus of my teaching program for my primary school aged students. My classes included literacy-based teaching materials alongside many activities which focused on development of verbal communication in the language. In this context I systematically taught some classes with and some classes without the sign and gestures, and tested my students periodically. This enabled me to establish whether (or to what extent) the sign and gestures served as a helpful mnemonic device for vocabulary memorisation and retention.

In addition to my classroom based research findings, through my project I learned a great deal about a range of issues including the challenges of learning a language as an adult with no speakers around me, teaching a language which is so new to me, and catering for community expectations for the revitalisation of their language.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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