A new album is helping students learn “endangered” indigenous language

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

A new album is “remixing the old with the new” to help Aussie children learn an endangered indigenous language. 

Children’s Ground, an organisation in Central Australia, has spent the last two years building a groundbreaking album performed entirely in the endangered Indigenous Arrnete language. 

Released last week, Ampe-mape Alyelheme (Kids Sing) combines remixed nursery rhyme classics like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” alongside educational originals. 

“We took old nursery rhymes and turned them into our way of singing, in Arrernte language,” said William Lowah, a team leader at First Nations organisation Children’s Ground.

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“It all started with the elders, they wanted this for the younger generation, so we got involved to help keep our language and culture alive. Now the young people are involved and they love it… they love the music.”

Arrernte educator-turned-musician with Children’s Ground, Carol Turner, says Ampe-mape Alyelheme “teaches and celebrates Arrernte language and culture through music”.

“We started this to keep our language strong,” she said in a statement. “We want our kids to grow up with music and educational resources that reflect their culture – that can help them to learn, respect, speak, read, write and sing in their first language.”

“We have been writing children’s books and songs that speak about our culture, country, families and language.”

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More than 800 diverse Indigenous languages were once widely used across Australia before colonisation. Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates only 150 are now in daily use.

Arrernte is spoken by about 2,000 people – making projects like Ampe-mape Alyelheme vital for the language to continue into the next generation.

Cherisse Buzzacott, head of health and wellbeing from Children’s Ground, says the project addresses the lack of suitable language programmes in the education system.

“What we’re finding is, in the schools, [Arrernte language is] not really being privileged as an alternative to learning in the English language,” she told international news network Aljazeera earlier this year.

“We preference people to be able to be on Country and learn and speak Arrernte.”

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Buzzacott – an Arrernte midwife and mother of three – told the magazine learning the language at an early age is vital for Arrernte children to maintain and strengthen their culture.

She also said that by providing a strong cultural identity, Aboriginal people would find some protection against the ongoing impacts of racism, social exclusion and incarceration.

“We know that the work that we’re doing is keeping kids out of the system because we’re engaging children.

“Through the work that we’re doing, we provide the kids with an identity and purpose by teaching them in the ways that they want to learn, which is through music and songwriting.”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.