Speech and Learning Development

Some important considerations for indigenous children

• Indigenous children are more likely to have frequent middle ear infections which can impact on their hearing, language, speech and learning development.
• Academic and behavioural problems are more likely in children who have delayed language development.
• Standard Australian English is not always the first language of Indigenous children which can lead to misinterpretation of a child’s speech and learning development. Poor results in testing can be due to “difference” in the child’s speech and language acquisition and not due to a language/speech “disorder”.
• Each culture has their own way of communicating. What is considered important and appropriate in one culture is not necessarily the same in another culture. For example, some cultures have different values and beliefs on how to raise children, including social communication issues, such as who talks to young children, about what topics and in what contexts (Schieffelin & Eisenberg, 1984; Wigglesworth & Simpson, 2008).
• Differences between Indigenous English and Standard English create difficulty for accurate interpretation of current assessment tools. These differences include: dialect classification according to gender, altering use of intonation, stress patterns, speech sounds, voiced v’s voiceless consonants, grammar, word order, use of irregular plurals, and irregular verbs, different rules for emphasis, introducing topics, sequencing and ending discourse, rules for when to talk and when not to talk, verb tense organisation in story-telling, humor and conversation (Butcher, 2008).
• Difference in phonology may be include the sounds: /d/ for /th/, deletion of one consonant when a consonant blend occurs at the end of a word, pronoun deletion, verb/noun endings indicating person or number variability, substitution patterns for gender terms, difference in prepositional phrases and frequent use of past tense verb forms (Butcher, 2008).
• Academic results need to be considered with caution as mainstream education uses Standard English as the basis for the curriculum, and this can be “linguistically oppressive” for Indigenous children. This can often lead teachers to assume there is a delay in learning. Alternatively, teachers have been found to have lower expectations for Indigenous children and consider their learning appropriate when in fact the child is delayed (Ball & Lewis, 2011).


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