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Workshop and Internship programme expand horizons for linguistics student

Jane Simpson, Learning

Date: 23 December 2016

It’s always pleasing to watch people grasp opportunity and run with it and Bonnie McLean is a good example of someone doing this. As a third-year student at ANU studying linguistics, Japanese and Gamilaraay, an Indigenous Australian language, Bonnie had two unique learning experiences last year, which provided her with new skills and an opportunity to give something back. 

The first opportunity was a trip to Alaska for a language fieldwork documentation workshop, funded through CoEDL. While at the conference, Bonnie met a fellow attendee who showed her various tools for learning languages, including the Memrise app and website. He had been using it to teach and learn Kristang, a Malacca-Melayu Portuguese Creole spoken in Malaysia and Singapore. Bonnie could immediately see the potential of the tool as being adaptable to any language and good fun to use. She then worked with CoEDL affiliates John Giacon and Hilary Smith to develop Gamilaraay language learning materials using the new tools. 

Some months later Bonnie’s next opportunity came via the Australian National Internship Program, which places students, often economics and politics students, in work environments such as government departments and embassies. With the support of CoEDL Deputy Director Jane Simpson, Bonnie was successful in entering the programme as a linguistics intern and rather than spending her internship in a conventional city work-place setting, she spent it with the Papulu Apparr-kari Language Centre in Tennant Creek.

Professor Simpson says Bonnie’s work at the centre was valuable, “She took her own learning and use of Memrise and shared it with teachers and learners of Warlmanpa and Warumungu.” Professor Simpson was also delighted with the way Bonnie critiqued both the issues and the benefits of the programme, the main issue being the community’s inability to consistently access wifi and laptops and the main benefit being the ability of Memrise to engage both younger and older community members in language work, often together.

Randall Japaljarri Morrison and Bonnie McLean work on creatingWarumungu and Warlmanpa Memrise appsBonnie says the experience is one she gained an enormous amount from. She said a Warlmanpa elder, Susannah Nakamarra Nelson (see top image) was someone who impressed her greatly and who as a strong woman, attributed her strength to culture and language. “She taught me the connection between language and strength. She really wanted to share her knowledge. She said she wanted to do it so the younger generation would be stronger.”

Bonnie said the community’s commitment to language was infectious. “Older people were asking me to put Memrise on their phone so that they could play it to their grandchildren.”

In February this year, Bonnie heads to Japan to further her studies with a New Colombo scholarship.

Top image: L-R Bonnie McLean in Tennant Creek with, Penny Napaljarri Kelly, researcher Mitch Browne, and Susannah Nakamarra Nelson

For more information about studying linguistics, here are some useful links:

Study linguistics at the Australian National University

Study linguistics at the University of Melbourne

Study linguistics at the University of Queensland

Study linguistics at Western Sydney University

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University