With modern society and business relying on English to communicate, we risk losing some of the world’s languages and the traditions and cultures that go with them. But thanks to people like Nana Tomihara, indigenous languages are being preserved.
Living and growing up in Japan, Nana Tomihara was surrounded by Japanese language and culture. However, upon moving to Melbourne to study, her eyes were opened to a new world of multiculturalism.
When Nana joined Trinity's Foundation Studies program in 2015, her classmates quickly became a focal point of her experience – getting to meet people from Malaysia, Singapore, China, and students from as far as South America, many who helped further her passion for culture and languages. Over the course of her studies, Nana, who already studied Chinese, improved her Chinese tremendously just by talking to others who spoke the language. Since then, she's gone on to learn French, which she speaks in addition to English, Korean, Mongolian, and her native Japanese.
What pushed her passion for languages this far?
‘I think it’s about the environment,’ says Nana. ‘I was always in an environment where I needed to learn to communicate in foreign languages... then I started learning languages and I found that it’s quite interesting to learn their culture too, as language is about culture.’
While people like Nana are committed to learning many languages, when looked at on a broader scale, the pool of global languages is beginning to shrink.
‘Because of globalism, a lot of languages die, as many people learn English instead of their own language and languages also keep changing,’ says Nana, who has long been troubled by this fact. ‘In university, I was looking for a job, and I talked with my professor about a job in the linguistics field. He said, if you’re interested in indigenous languages, you should work on how to preserve them.’
So that’s what she did.
In an attempt to retain fading languages and cultures, Nana is now working on a project to preserve indigenous languages here in Australia, focusing on the Guugu Yimithirr language from northern Queensland, which presently has less than 1000 speakers.
The task isn’t simple, however, as she and the non-profit organisation she works with are trying to find ways to incorporate the language into a teachable curriculum. ‘In many schools, there’s no fixed curriculum around teaching indigenous languages, and many create their own curriculum, so there is no widely used one,’ says Nana. ‘Along with this, there are difficulties in communicating the creation of a curriculum to those that would teach it.’
Nonetheless, Nana and her group are finding ways to tackle these obstacles, for instance by educating those who speak the language about how to teach students. Nana also spends time living in the Aboriginal community that uses the Guugu Yimithirr language for two weeks every month to fully understand their culture and traditions. Moving forward, her group is looking at education through videos as a way to centralise the curriculum and help those who are teaching the language.
To some, finding a way to hold onto little-spoken words may seem like a lot of work, but to Nana, it’s about maintaining some of the world’s greatest treasures.
By Ian Coyukiat