Teaching through spoken and written texts

What are spoken and written texts?

Good language teaching goes beyond words. Language teachers expose their students to spoken and written texts right from the start of their learning.

Spoken texts include oral stories, interviews, dialogues, monologues (e.g. a welcome to country speech, a presentation to the class), phone conversations, discussions, role plays, or any other piece of spoken language. When people are speaking to each other, their interaction is made up of series of utterances, for example questions and replies, comments and suggestions, requests and responses.

Written texts include stories, comic strips, instructions, recipes, PowerPoint presentations, emails, text messages on mobile phones, newsletters, posters, scripts for plays and performances, factual texts and explanations, or any other piece of written language. When people are writing to/for each other, their interaction may be made up of series of sentences, paragraphs and connected ideas.

Some spoken and written texts in Australian languages were recorded many years ago. Some have been created more recently by  languages teachers, together with other community members, with the assistance of a linguist. This is an opportunity for language development. These texts assist teachers to enable their students to begin to use the language to interact with each other in speech and writing.

It is challenging for learners to understand and produce spoken and written language so the texts do not need to be long. They can be a series of sentences in a short paragraph. Even in short texts, the grammar and vocabulary can be complex for the learners to process. Here's an example of a spoken text in Yuwaalaraay
created for the St Joseph's school program in Walgett from the Board of Studies NSW website. It is the basis of a conversation lesson developed by Karen Flick:
Making a cuppa

When people visit your house, what's the first thing you do?

You say Hi! Yaama!
Invite them in. Dhaay yanaaya! (Come here).
Ask if they want something to drink. Minya nginda ngaw-gi?
Ask what they want: tea dhii, leaf tea dhii-buu, coffee gabi
Ask how they want their cuppa made, e.g.:
'    Do you want sugar? Minya ngay dhuga?
'    yes ngaa/yawu, no waal/gamil
'    two sugars with milk. Bulaarr dhuga milgin-biyaay.
'    black tea, no sugar, little bit of cold water! Buluuy dhii, maarr dhuga, badjin baliyaa gungan!
'    Ah, good! Gaba!
This text provides an opportunity to take an analytic approach. The students learn components of the language, for example the sounds of the languages (e.g. ng, dh, aa, ii, uu), nouns (tea, coffee, sugar, milk, water), verbs (want, make), qualifiers (a little bit, cold), greetings and welcomes (hello, come in), how to ask and respond to questions. Sounds, words, phrases, utterances and grammar are connected through a short conversation with purposes such as welcoming, offering, accepting, requesting. Texts such as this one provide students with opportunities to learn language in a holistic way. As Yuwaalaraay teacher Karen Flick puts it, 'Doing and talking language gives you a better understanding of what is happening.'

There are many different types of texts which teachers can introduce to their students.

What are text types?

There are many different types of spoken and written texts  There may be different text types in Australian languages. Text types in English include narrative, recount, biography, report, explanations, reports, interview, description, procedure, news report, resume/CV, menu, party invitation, photo captions and labels. Each of these has typical ways of being structured and is associated with particular types of vocabulary and grammatical features.

To take one example, procedural texts are a linked series of instructions. These include a range of activities such as recipes, how to make boomerangs, how to catch fish. What these activities all have in common is that they are generally based on a list of required items (what you need) and a set of steps to follow (what you do). So they provide a chance to teach the vocabulary related to the activity as well as the command form of verbs.
Johnny cake recipe

What you need:

  • self raising flour,
  • salt,
  • water,
  • frypan and stove, or
  • grid iron and hot coals.
What you do:
  • Turn on the stove, or;
  • Collect the wood, make a fire and wait for it to die down to hot coals.
  • Take the flour.
  • Sprinkle in some salt.
  • Mix in some water to make thick dough.
  • Knead it with your hands. Get the air in.
  • Break off pieces.
  • Roll and flatten them.
  • Cook the Johnny cakes on the grid iron / in the oven.
  • Turn them over to cook the other side.
  • Eat them with butter and golden syrup.
To take another example, descriptive texts are made up of a series of linked sentences about a person, place or animal for example:
This is my mother. She has black hair and brown eyes. She's tall. She's kind and funny. She comes from Tamworth. She likes tea and flowers. She doesn't like dogs.
This text type is different from a procedural text. It starts with an opening sentence identifying the subject of the description (This is my mother) followed by a series of sentences describing that subject. In terms of grammar, the descriptive text provides an opportunity to teach nouns (mother, hair, eyes, tea, flowers), pronouns (she, my), verbs (like) and adjectives (black, brown, tall, kind, funny). Students also learn how to create positive (She's tall) as well as negative (She doesn't like dogs) statements.

Here is an example of a description of a family in Wiradjuri from the Stage 4 Dubbo College program:
Nginha gunhi-dhi. Guwiiny wurraan budhang, miil ngiindhul. Winhangalang ngiiny.
This is my mother. She has black hair and brown eyes. She is clever.

Nginha gaagan-dhi. Guwiiny bamir-bu nanay-bu. Miil-dhi ngurrumirgang.
This is my brother. He is tall and thin. He has blue eyes and big feet.

Nginha minhi-dhi. Guwiiny mumangbu dhandaa-bu.
This is my younger sister. She is short and pretty.

Nginha ngabun-dhi. Guwiiny guuray wuru-dhuray-bu, wurraan barrang. Winhangalang ngiiny.
This is my grandfather. He has a thick neck and white hair. He is clever.

Nginha gaagan-dhi. Guwiiny bubaybu nanan-bu.
This is my older brother. He is small and fast.
To take a third example, recounts are texts which are made up of a series of linked sentences about an event which happened in the past. Here is one written by a Yuwaalaraay student, featured on the Board of Studies NSW (2003) Aboriginal languages K-10 assessment for learning in a standards referenced framework CD ROM:
Cray fishing

Ngiyani Pagan-gu gaawaa-gu yanaa-nhi, bayamali-gu yinga. Buligaa birray yanaa-nhi gaawaa-gu, Dillon, Johno, Leon and Corey. Bularr miyay yanaa-nhi, Lisa, Deb. Walgan Fay, walgan Karen yanaa-nhi. Ngiyani barriga yinga bayama-y. Milan-du nganha yii-y. Ngiyani yinga yilama-y. Girr gaba yinga. Ngiyani gundhi-gu. Yanaa-nhi.

We went to Pagan Creek, to catch crayfish. Four boys went to the river, Dillon, Johno, Leon, and Corey. Two girls went, Lisa and Deb. Auntie Fay and Auntie Karen went. We caught a hundred crayfish. One bit me. We cooked the crayfish. They were really good. We went home.
Recounts are different from procedural texts and descriptions. This recount starts with an opening sentence to set the scene (We went to Pagan Creek to catch fish) followed by a series of sentences about the order of the events that occurred there. In terms of grammar, recounts provide an opportunity to focus on how to form past tense verbs in Yuwaalaraay (e.g. go-went, catch-caught, bite-bit, cook-cooked). Students also learn how to sequence their ideas, and include people and how they were involved in the events.

Before students can create procedural texts, descriptions, recounts or any other type of spoken or written text, teachers need to provide them with opportunities to (a) listen to or read examples of each text type (b) become familiar with ways in which each text type may be organised and (c) learn vocabulary and grammatical structures which are typically found in each text type.

Authentic texts are unlikely to be purely one type. For example, narratives can often include sentences which are found in a recount (e.g. Little Red Riding Hood went to her grandmother's house), and a procedural text could include sentences that don't start with the command form of the verb (e.g. It's important to use the right bait for the fish you want to catch). However, teacher constructed texts are a helpful way of assisting students to focus on their skills in understanding and using particular vocabulary and grammatical structures. Teachers introduce their students to a range of different spoken and written text types to develop their receptive and productive skills in the target language.

What text types are there in Australian languages?

Language functions and text types are socially agreed ways of communicating. The way they are structured and expressed varies from culture to culture. For example greetings are not some same in all cultures. Depending on which language you speak, you may greet someone by asking something that translates into English as: How are you? Are you good? Have you eaten yet? Where have you been? or Where are you going?

The structure and purposes of text types vary too. For example, narratives
in English are often considered imaginative; they are told or written to entertain the listeners or readers. The narrative structure includes introducing the characters and situation, setting up a complication, and finishing with a resolution. By comparison, narratives in Australian languages often do much more than entertain. They are used to inform and pass on important knowledge about country or social customs and values. Murray Butcher explains the importance of Paakantyi story in this video on the NSW Board of Studies website.

We cannot know all the different oral text types that would have been used in every Australian language in the past, though we know it is likely they would all have all used special kinds of language for songs and ceremonial activities, for example. New text types are evolving naturally as Australian languages are being revitalised, relearned and used.
It may also be possible for text types to be developed or reconstructed, modelled on those found in other languages.

This page was first published on January 24, 2022 and was last updated on January 24, 2022. All material is copyright to the individual authors unless indicated otherwise.