Introducing the translation tracks project in central Australia

By David Moore 

In 2016 the Alice Springs Language Centre is providing a translation pathway for high school students to prepare them for employment in a variety of language-related occupations. This project grew out of a significant need in Northern Territory. 

It has been translated into a reality by a project team being the Alice Springs Language Centre principal, a curriculum consultant, a translator and Arrernte language teachers. This Translation Tracks course meets a need as the language industry is in desperate need of trained interpreters, translators, liaison officers and language teachers in Central Australia.

Language maintenance and language development are important. Students gain a deeper understanding of their own Indigenous languages. They also learn about English. They learn about the differences between languages and how to translate figures of speech and idioms, technical key terms, passives, nominalisation, and all aspects of translation.

Students investigate miscommunications between speakers of the languages. They work on developing language resources such as apps and publications. Work skills are a major part of the course. Students visit workplaces and speak with Indigenous interpreters and liaison officers to learn more about the language professions.


The course was discussed with Elders and Indigenous language teachers from eight language groups at Language workshops in Central Australia languages Arrernte, Western Arrarnta, Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, Kaytetye, LuritjaPintupi, Warlpiri and Pitjantjatjara.  

It was also showcased and discussed at the Darwin indigenous language policy meeting with twenty representatives from Katherine and Top End regions. There was unanimous, whole hearted support from these groups. One Alyawarr translator said:

“It’s good, students are learning this course as it is really important. It is hard going from Alyawarr to English and English to Alyawarr. We want our kids to understand that hard English so they can understand it in Alyawarr. This will help our students to get work and help others to understand Alyawarr”.

A language industry stakeholder reference group advised the project to ensure it meets needs of the workplace and leads to direct employment pathways. This group consisted of stakeholders from employers who employ interpreters.

Designing the Course

The course was written at the end of 2015 based on the Australian Curriculum Aboriginal and T.S.I. Language Middle Years Achievement Standards and Content Descriptions. The course began with the year 9 Arrernte class at Centralian Middle School in term one 2016.

The course was edited and translated into Alyawarr and in term two the course has been taught using interactive distance learning (IDL) with Alyawarr-speaking students at the remote Arlparra high school. Course materials were developed term by term as we learnt more about the learning needs of the students and improved the course accordingly. Quantitative and qualitative data was recorded at the start of the project and ongoing throughout the project.

Launching the project

At the start of Term 3 a Translation Tracks workshop was organized for teaching teams from remote high schools to learn about the project in order to begin the course in their languages in 2017. Following the workshop was a launch of the Translation Tracks Workbook which involved students, the language industry stakeholder group, media, the local MLA; elders, teaching teams and education leaders. A short movie showcasing students talking about the course was shown.

Future directions

Following the workshop it was decided by Yuendumu School; Ti Tree School and Ntaria School to translate the course into Warlpiri, Western Arrarnta and Anmatyerr. These courses will be developed in semester two 2016 and schools will start to teach the Middle Years course at the start of 2017.

Then they will move onto the VET pathway in the senior secondary years. In the future other schools could adapt the Warlpiri and Alyawarr workbooks for use with their own languages.  There is also interest from the top end of Northern Territory for this to be a pathway for other Northern Territory high schools.

David Moore is currently a doctoral candidate in linguistics at the University of Western Australia. His Masters thesis (2013) is entitled Alyawarr Verb Morphology and his current research is about the linguistic and translation work of the Hermannsburg Mission in the description of the Western Arrarnta language 1890-1910. David is also a NAATI accredited interpreter in the Alyawarr language and specialises as a forensic linguist in courts and tribunals.

Published: 01/11/2016