Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Bountiful South: Indigenous language education: beyond revival

Maori and Aboriginal leaders from New Zealand and Taiwan discuss what lessons Taiwan can glean from the Maori’s successful model of language revival

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Kararaina Cribb, fourth from left in the second row from back, visits a kindergarten at Danfeng Elementary School in New Taipei City last October regarding its indigenous language immersion program.

Photo courtesy of Danfeng Elementary School

The sound of the female elder’s call to the ancestors stirred deep emotion in Kararaina Cribb as she approached the Aboriginal Seediq community center in Nantou County last October.

“In Maori we call it the karanga call,” she says. “We greet our guests in the same way.”

As the chief executive of the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust, the non-governmental organization that has led New Zealand’s revival of the Maori language for more than three decades, Cribb made the trip to share their success story and offer pertinent lessons for Taiwan’s own movement to revive its Aboriginal languages.

Currently, UNESCO lists five of Taiwan’s indigenous languages as critically endangered.

“Languages are lost around the world every day,” says Cribb. “But it doesn’t have to be that way here [in Taiwan].”

With the The Aboriginal Language Development Act (原住民族語言發展法) passing in May last year and coming into effect in January, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kolas Yotaka, a member of the Amis people who met with Cribb, says the next two years will be critical, and learning from the Maori example could be the difference between success and failure.

“The Maori are our role model,” Kolas says.

‘LANGUAGE NEST’

Cribb says key to the success of Te Kohanga Reo’s program is the concept of “language nest,” in which a group of infants, like newborn chicks, are put in the care of native Maori-speaking community elders and raised in the mother tongue.

Cribb says it is very important for elders to feel a sense of ownership of the language, which allows them to take pride in their role in bestowing it to the new generation.

Biung Takisvilainan, section chief of the language division at the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), says language instructors for Taiwan’s program are also made up mostly of community elders who are certified after undergoing a 36 hours of training.

In New Zealand, community-run Kohanga Reo early education centers were established as the site for language nests.

After the first center was opened in April 1983, the next decade saw a rapid proliferation around the country, with a total of 800 centers caring for 14,000 children by the end of 1994.

These centers, Kolas says, is what Taiwan is missing.

Biung says that unfortunately conditions in most of Taiwan’s Aboriginal communities aren’t suitable for such centers as a high number of children live outside of their communities. Those that do remain, he adds, are mostly sent to kindergartens on weekdays and so that is where the language nest programs are currently being run.

“There are now 35 kindergartens and ten nurseries (教保中心) registered with the program,” he says.

Cribb also emphasizes the need for learning to go beyond the nest, so the language can be kept alive in the home.

Biung says to make sure this happens, the council has registered 300 family households with the program with numbers expected to increase over the coming year.

He adds that council officials visit the households monthly to evaluate progress made and offer any support or resources needed.

There is also a nanny program, where registered carers use the relevant mother tongue while looking after the children of an Aboriginal household during weekdays.

SCHOOLS OR TOMBS?

But even with the home front secure, setbacks are common once the children leave the nest and go to school.

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