Linking work and training language & literacy

Many of the learners who contributed their stories about learning for this project come from communities in the Northern Territory where Indigenous languages are spoken widely, and where English is only used in interactions with non-Indigenous people and with government agencies. Many of these learners identified their struggle to develop English literacy and numeracy skills in their school education and the limitations this placed on their participation in further education and training. It is of critical importance that the vocational education and training system supports the development of these skills as 'people with higher literacy and numeracy skills are more likely to participate in the workforce, be employed in more highly skilled jobs and earn more, compared with people who have lower skills'1.

In the following section learners and trainers share their experiences and their ideas about Indigenous languages and English, literacy and numeracy in vocational education,in workplace training and in other learning environments.

1 Shomos, A (2010) Links between literacy and Numeracy Skills and Labour Market Outcomes: Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper.


  • What the learners say
  • What the trainers say


LeisaLeisa is employed in the nursery in an Indigenous community. On the job training is provided by the workplace supervisor.

Leisa talks about her desire to learn to read and write


DonDon is a qualified mechanic.  He has worked in this role for over 30 years in an Indigenous community.

Don talks about English language and translation

Don talks about the need for literacy support

Don talks about the importance of having a community facilitator who can negotiate training and translate into the local language


ElizabethElizabeth is employed as a machinist in a textile art business in an Indigenous community.  On the job training is provided by the workplace supervisor.

Elizabeth talks about her preference for demonstration and peer teaching rather than reading instructions

Elizabeth talks about her own level of literacy


HeleanaHeleana is a trainee teacher and is enrolled in a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning. She previously worked in the areas of land management and eco-cultural tourism. She has completed the Certificates II and III in Spoken and Written English and is completing her final units in a tertiary preparation course concurrently with her teaching studies.

Heleana talks about English language and early education

Heleana - time to educate myself in literacy and numeracy

Heleana - back to basics

Heleana - learning Balanda literacy using Indigenous ways

Heleana talks about English language


VictorVictor is a ranger supervisor in an Indigenous community. He has previously completed Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management.

Victor talks about literacy as a big brick wall


IvanIvan is a ranger in an Indigenous community. He is currently enrolled in Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management.

Ivan talks about difficulties learning in english


MaritaNardene is the current Vice-Chancellors Indigenous Career Cadet at Charles Darwin University. She is studying a Bachelor of Commerce specialising in marketing. She previously completed a Certificate IV in Marketing and a Certificate IV in Community Services.

Nardene talks about strategies that supported the development of her literacy skills

Nardene talks about the importance of tutors to assist with literacy development


Michael is a VET lecturer in Conservation & Land Management. He has extensive experience working with and training Indigenous rangers.

Michael talks about how he supports learners with low levels of literacy


DebbieDebbie is the workplace supervisor and trainer in a textile art business in an Indigenous community.

Debbie talks about the importance of language translation to enhance understanding and learning

Debbie talks about strategies she uses when training students with low English language and literacy skills

Debbie talks about numeracy concepts


AndreeAndree is the workplace supervisor and trainer in horticulture at the nursery in an Indigenous community.

Andree talks about hands on training


CyrilCyril works for the health board in an Indigenous community. One of his roles involves the coordination of work based training for staff.

Cyril talks about strategies for making text meaningful

Cyril talks about the doing versus the writing


FredFred is a VET trainer. He delivers Certificate I in Work Preparation in Indigenous communities. Most training is conducted in the workplace.

Fred talks about accommodating students with low literacy and English language skills

Fred talks about giving partial qualifications


IngridIngrid is a first-year-out teacher working at a school in an Indigenous community. Prior to completing a Bachelor of Education Ingrid worked for 13 years as an Aboriginal Islander Education Worker.  

Ingrid talks about Indigenous languages


BarryBarry is a VET trainer in Indigenous Education Work. He delivers training in the workplace in an Indigenous community.  

Barry talks about the need to teach literacy skills in context

Barry talks about the links between training and Indigenous languages

Barry questions the status and importance of English language training in Indigenous communities

Barry talks about using Indigenous languages in training

Barry talks about what can happen if training is conducted only in English


Strategies for trainers:

Find out learners' English language, literacy and numeracy skills through discussion and observation and take these into account when planning and delivering training

Allow time in training sessions to focus on building English language, literacy and numeracy skills relevant to the subject

Give clear, practical demonstrations, and repeat them as many times as needed

Allow learners time to practice new skills and become confident at them before moving on to new tasks

Encourage learners to have a go without fear of making mistakes

Tell stories and give examples to illustrate meaning

Read text out loud to students

Model written responses

Scribe student responses and allow students to copy the writing if they can’t yet write independently

Build a supportive environment where learners are encouraged to assist each and work together on reading and writing tasks

Provide opportunities for students to teach each other

Access interpreters, if students need them, to negotiate training and during training

Encourage learners to discuss ideas and concepts in their own language if this assists with making meaning

Learn some of the learner’s language and use it in the classroom

Assist students to identify strategies that help them to learn and remember, such as rhyme

Use clear language that students will understand rather than jargon or ‘public-service speak’

Use large, clear fonts in written texts

Use illustrations to support text

Build a supportive environment where there is no shame in not being able to read and write well

Focus on meeting the needs and tapping into the motivations of the learner

Assess students’ skills by observation or oral questioning when written assessment is not appropriate

Access specialist English language, literacy and/or numeracy support if it is available