Possible role for the Literacy Council
People saw that we might have a role in advocating for greater coordination to help them deal with this issue. But they also had specific suggestions for our organization:
Statistical information on Aboriginal language use is limited. Several language communities have conducted their own surveys to try to get a more accurate picture of this. Even without good data, however, people know that language use is shifting from mother tongue to English in the home, and they are concerned about it. One person said that families must be encouraged to speak their language—not scolded because they do not use it. Families have to understand that it is important for them to speak to their children, and why—that it is important for children to hear the sounds of the language. This is particularly true in languages with oral traditions. In English literacy, we emphasize the importance of 'environmental print'—print that is found around us every day, like road signs. One person suggested that for Aboriginal language literacy, we have to emphasize the importance of 'environmental sound'.
There is a lot of misunderstanding around how children learn a language. We should not assume that children from different cultures learn language and literacy in identical ways. As we have seen, literacy is embedded in socio–cultural contexts. Members of a group define 'literacy' largely by the ways they use it. There is much work to do to find out how Aboriginal children learn their language and are socialized into literacy. One of the priorities of the Dogrib language community is to establish directions for research, and one area of research they are interested in is how children learn Dogrib.
People may also misunderstand the effects of learning another language. For example, many parents think that if children learn their Aboriginal language as their first language, then it will be more difficult to learn English as a second language. A number of research studies have shown this is not true. In fact, there are benefits from speaking more than one language. Language communities want support in helping people understand this.
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