Some Indigenous children speak a traditional Indigenous language as their first and main language (L1). These languages are entirely unrelated to SAE and have been spoken in Australia for thousands of years. The heartlands of these languages are remote communities (see Map).

In these remote communities, Indigenous children and local educators typically share the same L1 and generally do not use SAE outside of education or work settings. Some of these communities have had a history of schooling and literacy in their traditional language (see Bilingual schools), and in these situations local staff may be ‘biliterate’, that is literate in two languages.

For Indigenous peoples, traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are associated with particular lands and waters of the Australian continent and its islands and have profound cultural and identity significance, regardless of proficiency. Intergenerational transmission of traditional languages has been disrupted in many families (see Why does history matter?) so most Indigenous children speak other languages as their L1 (first language) nowadays.

As traditional languages retain cultural significance for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, families and the local Indigenous community might want preschools to provide children with additional experiences in the local traditional language. This would be a matter for consultation. Given the heartfelt determination of many Indigenous peoples to reawaken sleeping traditional languages which have been supplanted by SAE, the teaching of SAE must be in a mindfully additional and respectful way. SAE should never be positioned as more important than children’s L1. SAE is useful for a wider circle of communication, education and socioeconomic opportunities, but it cannot supplant children’s L1.