Children playing

What are the language challenges, opportunities and joys for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children? These scenarios provide you with a glimpse of daily language activities. What might be similar language scenarios for children in your care? What might be different?

A day in the life of …

Meet BB: English language learner, speaker of Wik Mungkan

A day in the life of BB at Aurukun, Far North Queensland

It's Monday morning and BB's mum and granny are making sure he and his brothers are all organised for the day ahead. Everything the family says is in Wik Mungkan. BB gets up, and rubs his eyes. He just needs to have a wash and get dressed and he’ll be ready because he’ll have breakfast at school. But the bus driver is already pulling up outside. Granny who’s sitting on the verandah gives him a non-verbal gesture signalling the boys are not ready yet and the bus driver should come back on his next next run.

BB and his brothers are all ready now. 'That bus is coming!' BB yells in Wik Mungkan. He and his brothers run out the door and get on the yellow school bus that picks up the Top End kids. BB sits with some of the other boys from his class who are (extended) family too. He can't wait to hear what the other kids and their families did on the weekend and to tell them about his family's hunting trip. BB got back last night so he hasn't caught up yet. He tells them about going out fishing and collecting mud shells. The other boys are full of hunting and fishing stories, funny and scary stories too. They talk in Wik Mungkan, of course. When BB gets off, the bus driver who calls him grandson jokes if BB brought any crab back for him. Again in Wik Mungkan.

At school BB is in year 2. His teacher Miss Jane speaks English all the time. Miss Jane understands that the whole class speaks Wik Mungkan and so as English language learners they can't always easily follow what she's saying. So Miss Jane relies on Miss Jean, a local Wik Mungkan speaking teacher who can help break down some of what she says into Wik Mungkan for everybody. Miss Jane also gets the class to explain to each other. BB's favourite subjects are maths and science. Some days he thinks he'd rather like to be a ranger, other days it's a pilot or maybe a mechanic on the supersize mine trucks.

Once a week he has Wik Mungkan lessons at school. This is a special time for the class because it's the one time when their language is the focus. BB knows his family is very proud that he can read and write in Wik Mungkan. They have told him the stories of how his granny and other old people went and became full teachers and taught in Wik Mungkan in the old days.

Today's very special because the Cape York footy people are in town. After school BB and his brothers go to the oval to train with them. BB is in awe of these footballers. He'd like to ask them what it's like to play in front of big crowds in Brisbane or Sydney, but it's too hard as they only speak English. On the way home, he gets his older brothers to tell him everything the footy players said in Wik Mungkan. They don't mind – they know it takes a long time to learn and to get confident using English.

At home there's a lot going on, all in Wik Mungkan. Families are dropping by to have a yarn (and see what BB's family brought back from the weekend's hunting). BB's family is having bullock tonight, one of BB's favourites. BB's tired after a big school day and the big weekend, and starts nodding off straight after a feed. 'Ah my boy – go have a ‘swim’ (wash) and sleep,' his mum tells him, in Wik Mungkan. And that's what BB does.

NB. In Aurukun, ‘swim’ has a different meaning from Standard Australian English. It refers to being in water, including when bathing or washing yourself.

Find out more about Traditional languages and where they are.

Meet Emma: English language learner, speaker of new contact language, Kriol, and continuously adding knowledge of traditional languages

In this community, community members are connected with one or more of the eight Traditional language groups associated historically with this place. These languages are spoken to varying extent down the generations, and so are all being revitalised, learned and taught here with the assistance of the local Aboriginal language centre. Locals speak a New Language, a creole called Kriol, from birth and as their main language, which is also spoken throughout the region. SAE is learned as an additional language when children go to school.

As soon as Emma gets up in the morning, she’s helping her mum, making sure the little kids all have a feed and telling them to get ready for kindy and school, in Kriol. She walks to school with three friends (who she calls sista, mami and gagu in Kriol) and they tell each other the gossip from around the community, again in Kriol. On the way, her mami sees her elderly gagu and they chat in Wubuy for a minute or so – Emma and her other friend can pick up on this (Traditional) Language a bit, as they hear it spoken quite a lot in some families.

At school, the Munanga staff all speak English. The Blekbala staff all speak Kriol and English and they know a lot or a bit (depending on their families) of some of the main Traditional Languages that are represented in the community. Emma’s Munanga teachers try hard, but many kids get tired and bored probably because they don't always understand school English right through and sometimes they get restless. This annoys Emma and she growls them hard, in Kriol. Her auntie goes to the school once a week and teaches the little kids lessons in Marra, one of the main Traditional Languages. Her auntie explains anything they can’t understand in Kriol.

After school Emma and her friends catch up on the day’s events in Kriol while they walk to the store (where they say a few words of English to the Munanga there at the counter), then they walk around town for a bit. A few people handsign to the girls about where they’re headed and what they’ve got (and they signal ‘dijei en najing’ back). The girls get a lift out to a nearby fishing spot with family (everybody telling stories all the way in Kriol). They fish and cook their catch on the coals. Emma knows ‘language’ names for many fish and plants, because that’s what they’re called in Kriol nowadays, but many originally came from Marra.

Emma gets dropped back home afterwards. Some of her family are watching a video (it’s in English) and commenting on it (in Kriol). But Emma sits outside and tells her three mami about the fishing trip (in Kriol). They have a good laugh about some of the funny things she saw and heard.

WILE p. 60

Find out more about new Contact languages and where they are.

Meet Joey: Young English speaker, adding knowledge of Traditional Language, Gumbaynggirr (not an EAL/D learner)

On Gumbaynggirr Country, the Gumbaynggirr language is being revived, learned and taught to others (as an additional language). Englishes (standard and local versions) are spoken across all generations from birth (as a first language).

Joey is up early for kindy. He and his mum get ready for the day, chatting in English in the same way that Aboriginal people around here talk. They live on Gumbaynggirr Country and they are Gumbaynggirr people too.

At the Aboriginal-run kindy, Joey and the other children play together. They speak English the same way as Joey because all their families are from this area too. One of Joey’s kindergarten teachers has been studying Gumbaynggirr with the Muurrbay Language Centre. (Her parents remember their Elders speaking Gumbaynggirr when they were growing up on a mission. They didn’t learn it back then, as it was strictly forbidden.) Joey’s teacher has done two certificate courses with Muurrbay and she is passing what she learns onto the gamambi, who know a lot of Gumbaynggirr words now too. All the kindy gamambi have learned songs in Gumbaynggirr from her. Joey’s favourite is the Giinagay song… But maybe today it’s the one about Gami’s place, because that’s where his mum is taking him and his baby brother after kindy. Joey and the other gamambi chat (and occasionally argue) their way through their morning, in English. At lunch they all wash their marla, and then they sit and chat with the kindy teachers, again talking English.

After kindy, Joey’s mum takes him and his little brother to the shops where they do some shopping (in English) for their Gami. Then they drive over to her place. Joey loves his Gami. She tells him stories (in English, but often, he is beginning to realise, she throws a few Gumbaynggirr words in). Today he tells her about his new favourite song and she gives him the biggest hug when he sings it for her. His Gami and his mum get dinner ready talking quietly in English, while Joey watches some television (in English) and baby boy sleeps.

Over dinner, mum and his Gami have lots of funny stories to tell (in English with some Gumbaynggirr in there too) and they get Joey to tell stories too. After dinner, he’s so tired that he drifts off to sleep straight away, with the sound of mum and his Gami still laughing and talking (in English with a bit of Gumbaynggirr) in the background.

Find out more about the types of Englishes spoken throughout Australia.