An Australian trial of the Master-Apprentice method

Hobson, John
Laurie, Bradley
Hobson, John
Laurie, Bradley
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Over 200 years of active suppression have had a devastating effect on the indigenous languages of south-eastern Australia. Many have ceased to be spoken and all those that continue in active use are in extreme danger. Recent innovations such as the New South Wales (NSW) Board of Studies’ K-10 Aboriginal Languages Syllabus have provided a much needed stimulus for existing community revitalization efforts and fostered the development of others. While very welcome and clearly having positive effects, this initiative has also rapidly shifted the emphasis of much revitalization activity along Fishman’s Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale from Stage 8 to Stage 4, effectively bypassing intergenerational transmission outside schools and re-orienting much community effort into the classroom. The current lack of trained Aboriginal speaker-teachers and the impending crisis for such school-based revitalization programs it implies have been documented by Author (2004, 2006, 2008) and led to the implementation of the Master of Indigenous Languages Education at the University of Sydney. There has also been significant growth in the provision of languages classes for adults at the vocational level in several languages from across the state. However, these developments are also yet to have significant impact in restoring language use within communities, outside classrooms. In recent years there have been increasing calls for local trials of the Master-Apprentice method based on the successes reported from North America. These include the draft resolutions of the Indigenous Languages Conference 2007, echoing the findings of the National Indigenous Languages Survey Report (Department of Communications, Information Technology & the Arts, 2005) before it. The Current Provision of Indigenous Language Programs in Schools report under preparation for the Department of Education, Science and Technology (Australian Council for Educational Research, n.d.) was similarly charged with evaluating a Master-Apprentice program that was to have been implemented by the NSW Aboriginal Languages Research and Resource Centre, but has thus far failed to occur. In this context, a pilot Master-Apprentice project was conducted in the second half of 2008 in the relatively undocumented Waalubal dialect of Bundjalung, a revitalizing language from the Northern Rivers district of NSW, assisted by a small grant from the Foundation for Endangered Languages. This paper reports on the conduct and outcomes of the project and the implications for wider application in the Australian context. Both the project and presentation represent collaborations between teacher and student from the University of Sydney’s Master of Indigenous Languages Education program.
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