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Stephanie

Stephanie Woerde

Year of Award: 2016 Award State: New South Wales Education > Indigenous
The Peter Mitchell Churchill Fellowship to inspire best practice in the design/implementation of Language Nest-style programs in Australia - New Zealand, USA, Canada
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My Churchill Fellowship experience gave me the invaluable opportunity to travel to New Zealand, where the Kōhanga Reo (Language Nest) model first originated in the 1980s and where, notwithstanding great challenges over time, more than four hundred and sixty kōhanga reo continue to be active to this day. It also took me to parts of the USA (Hawai‘i) and Canada (British Columbia), to compare how the model has been effectively adopted or adapted to support other Indigenous languages in other cultural contexts.

This Report represents a summarised culmination of the key conversations and observations I engaged in throughout my Churchill Fellowship journey. Its purpose is less focused on providing a theoretical case for the efficacy of Language Nest-style programs, which is already highlighted in established literature. That is, existing literature strongly suggests that: 

  • Within supportive learning environments, bi-/multi-lingualism has great capacity to generate a range of cognitive and communicative benefits at the individual and inter-cultural level.4 Correspondingly, second language literacy has been shown to enhance rather than hinder first language literacy.5
  • Where one or more languages being learned is an Indigenous language, benefits can extend well beyond the linguistic sphere to include improved wellbeing and socio-economic variables. For example, research emphasises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who speak Indigenous languages are at once more likely to attend school, gain a post-school qualification and be employed; have markedly better physical and mental health; and are less likely to engage in high risk alcohol consumption/illicit substance use, or to have been a victim of threatened or physical violence.6
  • Particularly for young/early language learners, immersion-based education is strongly conducive to successful language acquisition and advancement.7
  • As an immersion-based Indigenous language learning model for the early childhood context, the Language Nest model is an exemplar case. Indeed, it is hailed to have “served as more than a model: it has been an inspiration to a number of different groups”8 across the globe. 

As such, this Report is focused more so on learnings concerning the practicalities of designing/implementing Language Nest initiatives, appreciating how these on-the-ground, operational elements combine to reinforce the kinds of theoretical research results listed above. The Report explores some of the everyday, grassroots action behind Language Nest programs, as well as some of the longer-term and higher-level logistical questions around succession planning and sustainability. Note that I do not consider my authorship of this Report to make me an ‘authority’ on Language Nest matters, nor to represent an entirely adequate or appropriate ‘voice’ for the Language Nest case studies I engaged with overseas – it is merely intended to capture reflections from a learning journey that I am humbled and privileged to have been a part of, and that I see strong value in sharing with those beginning or considering Language Nest-style programs in Australia. 

A series of recommendations have been summarised on pages 76-79 of this Report. As an overarching comment, however, my Churchill Fellowship experience – and the opportunity to engage, firsthand, with the incredible people and progress of Language Nest initiatives internationally – has only reinvigorated my belief in the value of Language Nest-style programs for Australia. I look forward to sharing the important evidence and energy that I have returned home with among Australian linguistic, education, reconciliation and community development networks alike.

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