Judy came up to me and said, 'Lee you've sent me to the wrong place!'
'What are you talking about?' I asked.
'This conference, I'm in the wrong place, they're all enthusiastic and they're not putting it on!' Judy was one of 67 participants in the Armidale Diocesan ninth annual Indonesian Conference. Judy, a relative newcomer to teaching Bahasa Indonesia, was overwhelmed by the fact there were other people in the state who not only taught Indonesian but actually enjoyed it!
The Armidale Diocese is situated in northern New South Wales and encompasses some 28 schools, the majority of which teach Indonesian at various levels. Each year since 1990, the diocese has been bringing teachers interested in teaching Indonesian together for a two-day intensive language conference. The gathering emphasises two things. First, language, and second, that learning it is fun and achievable. This year again, participants came from throughout NSW and Victoria and from both government and non-government schools.
The conference, held on June 18 and 19, provided those who came with a genuine taste of Indonesian culture and language. In accordance with tradition it began with jam karet (rubber time!). The participants were however, soon treated to a traditional style opening with nasi tumpeng, being ceremoniously brought in and cut by the Armidale Diocesan Director for Catholic Schools, Mr Rick Johnston. Mr Johnston praised the dedication of the teachers and pointed out that it was through their efforts that the number of students taking on Indonesian had increased by over 100,000 since 1994. He also indicated that the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) teachers in schools were often isolated from their peers, as school executives and communities often did not see language study as a priority. Mr Johnston urged participants to spread the word about the value of language study, particularly Indonesian.
Having concluded the formalities, the participants broke into five language groups. Each led by experienced teachers, these groups took the participants through a series of intensive language activities over five 90-minute sessions. The beginner group catered for those with little or no experience in the language and took them on a humorous journey through the rudiments of Bahasa Indonesia. By the end these people were able to count, engage in basic conversations, rap, sing, tell enormous lies about themselves and haggle with flair.
The other four groups catered for those with more of an understanding of the language in a similarly relaxed and encouraging atmosphere. All groups engaged in fun activities that modelled a wide variety of LOTE teaching strategies while at the same time extending their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.
The two days were punctuated with cultural activities such as batik, cooking, angklung, dance, traditional children's games, songs and kite making. All were designed to provide teachers with practical classroom strategies. The dance group was so skilled they performed the Candle Dance at the conference dinner.
Throughout the two days the Armidale Indonesian Students Association interacted with the participants by taking cultural workshops as well as providing opportunities for the participants to practise their language skills. The Association catered for the conference dinner and provided a varied programme of traditional and contemporary Indonesian entertainment. The dinner showcased the skills of the local Indonesian community. Gerry van Klinken, the editor of Inside Indonesia, delivered the keynote address and despite some technical hitches with the electronic equipment enlightened the participants as to the current situation in East Timor. He outlined the recent outbreaks of violence in the province and the effect this was having on the Timorese. The Timorese he indicated, were not giving over to despair but rather viewing the whole situation as a real opportunity to regain their independence. They are a people filled with great hope for the future. The delegates were moved by the passion with which Gerry van Klinken delivered his address.
After braving two days of intensive language and culture, Judy came to me armed with samples of batik, tasty recipes, dance steps and a host of games. 'You know', she said, 'that wasn't too bad, I think I can do this. I'm glad you made me come.'
Lee Herden (email@example.com) is curriculum advisor LOTE for the Catholic Schools Office in Armidale, as well as principal of St Mary of the Angels Primary School in nearby Guyra.