English literacy and language

Australian Curriculum logo from Student Diversity web page

Repeatedly, literacy is used within the literature to mean ‘the ability to read and write in English’.

Hanlen (2010) acknowledges the basic fact; literacy is the ability to read and write in any language – which should be acknowledged by all teachers.

 If everyone talked to their young children the same amount, there would be no racial or socioeconomic gap at all (Rosenberg 2013).

The article  ‘The power of talking to your baby’ (Rosenberg 2013) does not contain the word ‘English’ at all. The paper is a brief account of research being undertaken in the United States and reports that:

Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his [sic] home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school.

There is little recognition given in such articles to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as learning English as an additional language, or in some cases English as a last language.

The article reported by Rosenberg points to research undertaken by Hart and Risley in 1995, which will be the basis of new research. Rosenberg states that ‘ … evidence is showing that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important’.  However, Eades (1993) points out that in Aboriginal families ‘…  this conversational pattern doesn’t appear to be characteristic of interaction between Aboriginal people and their babies’. Talk is not talked for talk’s sake. We must be wary of the outcomes of research that are biased or skewed and not apply them haphazardly in different cultural contexts.


ACARA nd, Who are EAL/D students?, Australian Curriculum, viewed March 9 2016, <http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/studentdiversity/who-are-eal-d-students>.

Eades, D 1993, Aboriginal English, Primary English Teaching Association, viewed 26 June 2015, <http://www.naclc.org.au/cb_pages/files/Aboriginal%20English%20in%20the%20Legal%20System%20-%20Diane%20Eades.pdf>.

Hanlen, W 2010, Aboriginal students: Cultural insights for teaching literacy, NSW Department of Education and Training, Sydney, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.a-id.org/pdf/aboriginal-students.pdf>

Rosenberg, T 2013, ‘The power of talking to your baby’, The New York Times, April 10, viewed 20 March 2015, <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/the-power-of-talking-to-your-baby/?_r=0>

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