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International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019)

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) to raise awareness of the crucial role languages play in people’s daily lives and to celebrate the important contributions they make to our culturally diverse world.

It is estimated that approximately 2,680 languages worldwide are in danger of being lost (UNESCO, 2018). This declaration implores all people to consider the value and sustainability of global indigenous languages and engage in acting for change.

Within the Australian context, our first thoughts are of the languages of Australia’s First Peoples: how we can better understand, value and respect the cultural knowledge about the land we find ourselves on today; the environment and how to better support it; and the rich cultural history that Australia’s First Peoples hold and fight to preserve.

Early Childhood Professionals must also reflect on the first languages of the children, families and colleagues within the learning community. Are endangered indigenous languages held by members of your community? On a larger scale, how are the first languages by all those within your community valued, celebrated and engaged in?

The Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) environment provides early childhood professionals, children, families and the wider community with an opportunity to explore, understand and value language as a powerful tool in developing an equitable and diverse community. It is within these early years that children develop a strong foundation for their own cultural identities, understanding and values through the interactions and relationships they form and participate in.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2018) tells us that “languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memory.” Within the ECEC environment what rights, opportunity and respect is afforded to those participating in our communities to use their language as a tool to share their unique identity, history, traditions and memories? How does the environment show a value for languages as part of the collective and individual cultures of the environment? Through critical reflection ECEC professional have the opportunity to unpack their own cultural identity and reflect on how the individual cultural identities of the community have a participatory role in the ongoing development of individual understanding, value systems and practices.

Language as a communication tool allows it users to “preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression” (UNESCO 2018, The Role of the Language). Thinking of the unique identity each person holds, dependence is placed on language to think, deliberate, negotiate, plan and articulate within everyday life. Without language what would our inner dialogue and outward expression look like? Furthermore, what does the ECEC environment offer to those who do not share the dominant language to actively participate in their right to use their most fluent language?

In the ECEC environment we are placed at a vantage point to experience how mother tongue, additional languages and other forms of communication empower and often disempower those who participate in our communities. Within our multicultural society, the evidence of the empowerment of language experienced by families, children and professionals is apparent every day.

Early Childhood Professionals as a whole prioritise the development of communication and literacy of young children within the ECEC environment. This predominantly transpires to communication and literacy in the dominant language of the environment. What measures and practices are being put into action that support the continuing development of communication and literacy in the home languages of children?

“Linguistic diversity contributes to the promotion of cultural identity and diversity, and to intercultural dialogue. It is equally important in achieving quality education for all, building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural and documentary heritage. Furthermore, it ensures the continued intergenerational transmission of indigenous knowledge.” - UNESCO, 2018. Action plan for organising the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, pg2.

The families, children and colleagues within the ECEC environment, all of whom play a pivotal role in shaping and informing the learning community, are entitled to have their whole identity celebrated and valued within the communities they choose to participate in. If we lens our thinking to the future of those participating in our environments, the values, skills and knowledge being instilled today will advocate for the continuing growth, regular engagement and continuing importance of preserving and using first languages.

As Educators, the importance of advocating for the use of a child’s home language/s, both outside of and within the early learning environment is not only imperative to their sense of identity and wellbeing, but it has the ability to contribute to sustaining languages at risk of endangerment. Fka Children’s Services asks Early Childhood Professionals to reflect critically on your learning environments, practices and pedagogies  and question ‘how are the languages and identities of all those participating in your community supported, valued, and celebrated – and what will you action to continue to advocate for the cultural and linguistic rights of your community?

fkaCS Members can download practice tips on supporting home languages and the development of identity via the Educator Resources page on our website. Contact us if you would like to speak with an fkaCS Practice and Pedagogy Consultant to discuss support options for your service.



United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

UNESCO, 2018. Action plan for organising the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. Pg. 2.

UNESCO, 2019. The role of the Language.

Date published: 21.5.2019

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