Tag Archives: testimonial

Using children’s stories to teach adult learners

Jo Cilento from Queensland shares her story of using the materials in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is a wonderful resource. How I would have loved to have had access to such a treasure as a child! From an early age, I had an intense interest in the languages and cultures of Australia’s First Nations peoples. My interest was so strong that at the age of 11 I seriously contemplated running away to Central Australia to join the Arrernte people.

I longed to be fluent in an Aboriginal language. But throughout my childhood, the only book on Aboriginal languages that I could find was a miniature dictionary called ‘Lilliput Aboriginal Words of Australia’. Even though it contained words from many different Aboriginal languages rather than a single language, it became my constant companion. I memorised all the words that it contained and their meanings.

I was first introduced to the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages while working as a tutor in the languages and cultures of the Yolŋu peoples of North-east Arnhem Land for the Yolŋu Studies Unit, at Charles Darwin University. I spent many happy hours, reading through the various Yolŋu language book collections, just for the sheer pleasure of it. I encouraged my students to investigate the collections as well, as I knew that their language acquisition and understanding of the differences and similarities of the various Yolŋu languages they were exploring in their courses would be greatly enhanced by doing so.

But it wasn’t until I began giving private one-to-one online lessons in Djambarrpuyŋu (the lingua franca of the western part of North-east Arnhem Land) and other related Yolŋu languages, that I actively began incorporating the books from the Living Archive in my teaching. Most people I teach in these sessions are keen to learn Djambarrpuyŋu before heading out on cultural tours to remote homeland communities in North-east Arnhem Land, where English is not the main language, but perhaps the fourth or fifth. One such place where cultural tours are conducted is Mäpuru, where the participants deepen their cultural understandings by being fully immersed in the daily activities of the community for 10 days.

There are very few resources for teaching Djambarrpuyŋu, so having access to the books in the Living Archive has become an essential and enjoyable part of the way I teach my students. From the very first lesson, I incorporate books that are relevant to whatever grammatical structure I may be teaching in that session.

For example, Djambarrpuyŋu uses the suffix ŋur which is added to a noun to create an adverbial expression of place (in English we use a preposition such as in, at, on or by to express the same thing). When I introduce this concept to students, we look at selected stories online where this structure is particularly prominent. The archive includes a series of readers for Yolŋu children with repetitive sentences and simple drawings, which demonstrates these forms clearly. There are stories with verbless sentences, such as Weṯi, wanha nhe?  (Kangaroo, where are you?), and others with the verb in present continuous tense, such as Ŋarraku ŋathi dhuwal (Here is my grandfather). Stories such as these give the student the chance to see the grammatical structure used several times in a story context, rather than simply in the isolated sentences I would have given them as examples.

Book coverBook cover 

To reinforce their learning, I also assign homework to read books from the Living Archive that contain the grammatical structure/s they have learned that session. My students have all reported that the books are a valuable aid to their learning. They really enjoy the challenge of translating the stories by themselves, and have said that it adds to the fun of learning. The process also helps them to embed the grammatical patterns they have been learning, and gives them the opportunity to learn new vocabulary used in context.

Many thanks to everyone who has been involved in this project. It is an invaluable resource for not only the present generations, but also the future ones.

We love hearing stories about how people use the materials in the Living Archive! If you would like to share your story, please contact us!

Arrernte students working on texts

David Moore from the Alice Springs Language Centre writes about how they’re using materials in the Living Archive.

Currently we are working on Ripponlea Institute with the development of Cert III in Applied Language. We need a stack of accessible and useful resources for our students in the various languages.

We looked at some of the Arrernte materials on the Living Archive and found that many of them are virtually unusable. They were written a long time ago, and have missing grammatical markers, older spelling, spelling mistakes and obscure words. This means that we can’t take these texts from the site and use them in class without extensive re-working.

What is needed is texts which enable the learner to progress with access to notes and explanations, guides to how grammar and lexical items are used in the text. It seems that the LAAL texts have that potential if spellings were regularised to conform to current Arrernte spelling, mistakes corrected and guides for the learner attached to current files.


I worked with some Arrernte teachers on a few texts, changing words to standard dictionary spellings and reorganising sentences so that this book can be read more easily in class. You can see one uploaded to LAAL as ‘Other Text’ for the story Anwerne Alheke Yerrampeke.

Over time we would like to re-work more of the texts as a class exercise for Cert III. Using texts in various classes we get a sense of how they can be developed. We could make an assessment task for students to work on creating new texts of enhancing some of the Arrernte books that are currently on LAAL.

Josiah Armstrong and I are working on the text for Akngulye arerte from the Arrernte collection in LAAL. We use the Arrernte Picture Dictionary and the Eastern and Central Arrernte to English dictionary to write current spellings: e.g. ‘othene’ changed to ‘uthene’. We will also make an English translation and glossary. The next stage would be to develop worksheets and activities based around the text.

Working on LAAL texts on whiteboard

Students will learn to read the texts and will read the text to primary classes when they are on VET work placements in schools. 

There are a number of pathways that this course supports: language teacher, translator, writer, illustrator, editor, language research assistant and Language Centre worker….

There is also a lot of potential here for further research, exploring some of the ways in which LAAL can influence language practices.

Using Kriol books with Indigenous students – part 2

Liz Clarkson is a year 9 teacher at Marrara Christian College in Darwin. At the end of 2017 she experimented with using Kriol books from the Living Archive with her class of Indigenous students. Here she describes how she used the materials the second time – see Part 1 for how she initiated the activity the week before.

The following week the groups followed the same instruction sheet for the Kriol text Bog La Mad (Bogged in the mud) from the Living Archive. I had downloaded the book from the website this time and it was much easier to click through the pages than working directly online. This was great as the pictures are lovely and help with understanding as well.

Our most confident Kriol speaker became our ‘consultant,’ so as we worked through the text she corrected as she saw fit, which gave her the role of ‘teacher.’ Then later we compared our translations with the English text that was provided on the last page of the book. That was enlightening for all of us to see if a sentence had been translated with different words or different meaning or perhaps in a more poetic and descriptive way. For example, the translation in the book had ‘exhausted’ but we had used the words ‘weak’ and ‘tired’ which were more literal translations of the text.

Examples of colour-coding and translations of Bog la Mad, with the translation from the book.

Because of the difficulties with the lower group the previous week, I didn’t put the students with lower literacy in a group. Instead I went around to each of them individually while the others went on with their reading activities. With each of them I read through the story in Kriol, they listened and told me what it meant. We discussed the meanings of some  different words, and I asked them to give me an oral summary of the story. We used this activity as a basis for comprehension and forming sentences in English based on the Kriol.

In summary here’s what I got out of the activity as a teacher:

  • It was a useful diagnostic tool which helped me understand which students understand how to use articles and prepositions in Standard Australian English.
  • It showed how students are influenced by their first language.
  • It helped me understand better which students could understand Kriol as a common language even though it wasn’t their mother tongue.
  • It was interesting to see low literacy students able to listen to Kriol and translate it orally with good accuracy.
  • I could experience being the student, as the students could teach pronunciation and meaning to the teacher. This was fun and empowering for the students.

What did the students get out of it?

  • Students learnt that there are lots of stories written in Aboriginal languages (not just told).
  • Students who were reasonably literate in English could soon get used to how to read Kriol as they were familiar with Kriol sounds and could use English reading skills to decode Kriol.
  • Students were able to see how words can be translated in different ways, and see how the grammar of Kriol differs from English.
  • It was fun to do an activity that placed value on Aboriginal languages and authors and stories. Students were excited to look up the Living Archive for stories in other languages they knew better or from their home communities.

This is the worksheet used in the class: Instructions for using LAAL books

Do you have a story to share about using materials from the Living Archive? Contact us and we can publish it here, with links from our social media sites.

Using Kriol books with Indigenous students – part 1

Liz Clarkson is a year 9 teacher at Marrara Christian College in Darwin. At the end of 2017 she experimented with using Kriol books from the Living Archive with her class of Indigenous students. Here she describes how she used the materials the first time – see Part 2 for how she revised the activity for the group the following week.

My year 9 class consists of students from Minyerri, Beswick, Yarralin, Belyuen and Maningrida. Their literacy in English is not strong, and I wasn’t sure whether they would all be able to understand Kriol but I thought there was a good chance they would relate to Kriol because of the common usage of Aboriginal English. This did seem to be the case and most students did respond to it. We read the story Grin Brog (Green Frog) in Kriol and also watched another video of The Christmas Story in Kriol and they really responded well to both.

One student who seemed to relate the least was from Belyuen where they don’t speak Kriol. But interestingly enough, another student from the same community could understand it and responded really positively.

There were two groups, one more literate than the other. The first group worked through the instruction questions fairly successfully. We read the story together. One student who was confident in Kriol was able to decipher it even though she was not used to reading Kriol. She said some of the words were different to what she was used to, probably because these books were published in Barunga and use the local variety of Kriol. Each student was able to discuss the meaning in English. We looked for Kriol words which repeated in the story and then wrote down what those words were in English.

coloured_textThe students all seemed attracted to different tasks but were all engaged. One student colour coded a number of words – colouring all the same words one colour and working out what those words were. Although they all translated one or two sentences, one student enjoyed going on with this and worked hard to write down translations for the whole text. I could see from his writing that he struggled to notice when articles and prepositions were needed in English. Another student was not keen to write but orally worked on translations with me. She was able to switch easily to the correct use of articles and prepositions.

This was an interesting diagnostic tool for me to see who was switching confidently and who struggled to recognise differences between Kriol and English. I would try this activity earlier in the year next time so I could include some of these aspects in my program planning.

With the lower group, concentration and behaviour was an issue. We sat on the floor with clipboards. It was hard to use the digital version of the book as we were on the website trying to view it instead of downloading, which lets you click through the images more easily. The lesson with the lower group was a little less successful as there was one student who was happy to copy the translations but he wasn’t really learning through it. Another student who was not keen to read or write was happy to listen to me read the Kriol and he could tell me what it meant. This group found it hard to concentrate on what they might learn from the language exercise.

Liz works with a student in her class at Mararra (photo courtesy of ABC)

Go to Part 2 to read about the second class using Kriol resources, and Liz’s reflections about what she and the students learned from the activity.

Testimonial from Boarding Training Australia

Jenny Florisson from Boarding Training Australia tells about how she uses the materials in the Living Archive in her work.

LogoI have been using the Living Archive for a long time in my Training work with Boarding schools. My husband Steve and I do Certificate IV training all around Australia for Boarding school staff, particularly those with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. One of the Units that Houseparents and Boarding supervisors study in the training we do is called Promote Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural safety. We believe that

“Respecting, valuing and understanding Aboriginal ways of using English is a significant step in respecting, valuing and understanding the identity and self-esteem of these children.”  Dr Diana Eades

For some staff we train, when we look at the books on the Living Archive website, this is the first time they have seen books written in Kriol and other Aboriginal languages. We encourage Boarding staff to celebrate the languages of their Indigenous students, and to have stories and books available in Indigenous languages for students to read. To value a young person’s home language is vital. Many Aboriginal students speak several languages and some have had the opportunity to learn to read them.

Thri BiligutI have particularly enjoyed the Kriol stories and the students have a lot of laughs teaching me to read the story together. My favourite is “Thri Biligut” in Kriol, written and illustrated by Lily Bennett (Barunga).

I have felt very privileged to sit with a young girl in her Boarding Residence in a remote Aboriginal community while she read me a story in Murrinh-Patha on the computer from the Living Archive website. Her pride and enjoyment at reading to me in her language was very obvious.

I encourage Boarding staff to download the free books from the Living Archive and to print them out for their students to enjoy reading in their own language.

If you have a story to tell about using the Living Archive, contact us at livingarchive@cdu.edu.au 

Testimonial from language teacher

As head of languages at Meriden school (Strathfield NSW) until 2015, I was very grateful to discover the materials available for the Warlpiri and Anmatyerr languages on the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages website. The school has a relationship with the Ti Tree community in the Northern Territory and there is a group of students from the community studying at Meriden. These students bring a rich cultural and linguistic heritage to our school community, which I am always interested in helping them share with the broader school population. When I showed the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages to the Ti Tree students, they were really interested to see stories and books produced in their language by people they know. We were able to download a couple of the stories and have them bound into booklets. These were used to help students share stories in their language.

Sincere thanks to all who have contributed to this site, from the hard-working community members to the site creators and administrators.

Mark RichardsMark Richards 2
MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
Western Sydney University

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If you have a story about using the materials in the Living Archive, contact us!

“An extremely useful research tool”

Academic linguist Dr David Wilkins from ANU shares his reflections and experience using the Living Archive.

I can’t express effusively enough how wonderful (and important) I think the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is.  It’s been amazing to see new life breathed into materials I had thought were lost in the mists of time.  I know at least one Arrernte woman who was very moved to find that some of her past work was now publicly available on the web. Moreover, I have found it to be an extremely useful research tool.

The reproduction of the materials in both original (pdf) and text format has made it very amenable to comparative linguistic research through the search function.  As a simple example, I used LAAL to explore uses of the “pan-Australian” exclamation /yakay/ ‘wow!; ouch!; hey!; oh no!’ (and its variant spellings) and found data from languages as different as Anindilyakwa, Arrernte (Eastern and Western), Djambarrpuyngu, Gumatj, Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi-Luritja, Tiwi, Warlpiri and  Wubuy. At least one of these languages had no entry in the available (and extensive) dictionary and grammar, but did have numerous text examples in readers that were only discoverable through LAAL. Also, where /yakay/ was recorded in a grammar or dictionary, it was commonly the case that no examples of use were given – and, once again, LAAL came to the rescue.  The availability of the pdf version means we can also get a much better contextual understanding of the use of the interjection because of accompanying pictures or illustrations. Further, in several cases /yakay/ is used in a speech bubble in  a picture or photo, thereby making it clear what accompanying bodily and facial expressions co-occur with the use of the exclamation.  I understand this is a simple, and perhaps minor, example of how LAAL can be used, but it should suffice to indicate the archive’s rich potential.

I also believe that the numerous books where the author has also illustrated their own work can provide important evidence on issues which are relevant to linguistics, social semiotics and cognitive science, since the two perspectives (linguistic and visual / pictorial) allow researchers to explore similarities and differences in how information is represented in the drawing vs. how it is represented in language.  In other words, it is not just a language archive, it is a multimodal archive that demonstrates, among other things, a nice range of local artistic representational talents and choices.

Finally, I applaud the attempts that have been made to expand the usefulness of materials for schools and communities through initiatives like the Living Archive’s Digital Story Competition. It was great to be able to hear and see stories that had previously only had a ‘print’ presence. It would be nice to see further similar initiatives.

I only have one current suggestion for improving the usefulness of the archive – fuzzy string searching (approximate string matching). This would help both community members and researchers alike: given the variability in orthographies and spellings even in one language, it can be hard to find exactly the items one is searching for.

All this is simply to say congratulations to the members of the LAAL development team.

Wilkins Photo.JPGDavid P. Wilkins, PhD
Research Associate
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
Australian National University
Language and Linguistics Consulting

Nemarluk School visit

mascotAt the invitation of teacher Kristie Moseley, Trish Joy and Cathy Bow from the Living Archive project visited Nemarluk School in Stuart Park. Nemarluk School is a Northern Territory Department of Education and Children’s Services school for children who require specialised and individualised educational programs. Kristie’s class has a number of Indigenous students and she tries to incorporate Indigenous stories and knowledge into her classes as much as possible.


We told the students about the many different languages of the Northern Territory and how even though write with the same letters as English, the words are hard to read if you don’t know how to speak the language. We showed them some Anindilyakwa words, which are really long, and we showed them where Anindilyakwa is spoken on Groote Eylandt on the Living Archive poster map.

an0022Trish then read a story from Groote Eylandt about the Crocodile and Blue Tongue Lizard, which talks about how the animals made their homes but then got into an argument and now they have different habitats.  The story was told by a great old storyteller who has since passed away, and the pictures were drawn by children in schools at Angurugu, Umbakumba and Bickerton Islands.

Nemarluk_10_cropThen the children chose animals and made their own pictures about where the animals live and what they eat, then they shared some of the traditional Aboriginal stories they’d done in class previously.

We looked at some more books on the Living Archive website, showing how they can find books by language or place, and they can download and print the books to look at in class, or their families can look at them on their phones or computers. We showed them where to find the English translation if there is one (usually at the end of the story), and talked about how difficult it can be to translate from one language to another. The kids were able to understand some of the Kriol story we read to them, and they repeated some of the words we heard from a Dhuwaya story.

Thanks to Kristie, Rina, Amanda and all the lovely kids at Nemarluk for welcoming us, and we look forward to hearing more stories about how you’ve used materials from the Living Archive in your classes. Nemarluk_22



Testimonial from CDU lecturer

sue-smithDr Sue Smith, Senior Lecturer in Education at Charles Darwin University has sent a lovely message about how she uses the Living Archive in her teaching.

Just a short note to say how useful the links to the Living Archive in my subjects are for students.

I teach child and Adolescent Development that includes language acquisition, and effects of family, peers and culture/s.

Children have tremendous potential to learn languages, and it is vital that that they maintain the languages of their families and communities for their overall wellbeing and ongoing educational successes.

The Living Archive is a wonderful resource to introduce some of these complexities to my students, a repository for teachers to access to provide resources that can capitalise on Indigenous students’ languages and knowledge, and provide an entry point for non-Indigenous students to learn about Indigenous cultures with authentic age-appropriate materials.

This is a wonderful resource that offers itself to many learning contexts.

Thank you to you and the team,


Using LAAL at Monash Uni

Dr Alice Gaby from Monash University shares how she used the Living Archive in the undergraduate linguistics course “

I got the students to use the archive for various short homework exercises. For example:

  • Find a likely instance of nominal morphology.
  • Is there any evidence of allomorphy?
  • If so, what are the allomorphs and what are their respective distributions?
  • What is the most likely function of this morpheme?

The students also used the archive to complete a project in which they constructed a part of a learner’s grammar on the basis of the primers/readers and similar. For example, one group had a plain-language explanation of how grammatical relations are expressed (e.g. “how you know who is doing the action and who is affected by it”). The students really loved working with the real language materials.

I suggested to the LAAL team that it would be useful to be able to copy and paste the citation reference for the books the students used. Now they’ve added that feature, it will be really useful next time I run the Australian languages unit (first semester 2016).

If you have a story to share about how you’ve used materials from the Living Archive, let us know