Spread the Word with Indigenous Languages

At a loss for words? Expand your vocabulary with these unique terms from some of Australia's 300 Indigenous languages. 'Language Warriors' Bjorn Stewart and Katie Beckett share ingenious Indigenous words with young learners, revealing simple phrases to replace entire sentences in English. So rather than shouting "spread your arms out wide!" to warn your goalie to ... spread their arms out wide, just shout "yarroo!" instead. And you thought the Germans had a word for everything!


What do you do when you need to get someone's attention really quickly? When you need to alert the people around you to something important that you see, and "hey!" doesn't quite cut it? The kids in this class are in desperate need for such a word. Thankfully palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines, has a great word for that: warr!

Spread the Word: Warr

Classroom activities

Role play: Think of a time where you might need to quickly get someone's attention. Act it out in a pair or small group and make sure you use the palawa kani word 'Warr!'

Art: Draw a comic with someone saying the word 'Warr!'

Geography: Find Tasmania on a map of Australia. Write one or two sentences about Tasmania: eg It is an island. It is near Victoria.


Sometimes you're in a situation for which there is no simple word, like when your ball gets stuck in a tree and you need to kick it to get the ball to fall. Right? Wrong! Anindilyakwa, a language from far north Northern Territory, has a perfect word just for that. It's 'ngarrarndirrarjena'. Now you just need to learn how to pronounce it right!

Spread the Word: Ngarrarndirrarjena

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: When have you got something stuck up a tree? What was it? How did you get it down?

Phonics: How many syllables can you hear in the word 'ngarradirrajena'? Clap the sounds to break it up and see how many syllables you can hear: ng-arr-arn-dirr-a-je-na.

Art and design: Draw or paint a tree that needs shaking to get something down from it! Describe your artwork to a friend.

Geography: Find the Northern Territory on a map of Australia.


Often when you're sick, like Leo is in this episode, you don't want to see anyone or be bothered by anyone, you just want to be left alone. We all know the feeling, so now it's time to know the word for it too! It's 'garu-garulen', another great word from the great Queensland language of Yugambeh.

Spread the Word: Garu-garulen

Classroom activities

Role play: Act out a role play with a partner or in a small group. One of you is sick. The others are trying to help the sick person and want him or her to come out and play. The sick person doesn't want to, they need to say 'Garu-garulen' to make the others understand.

Art and Design: Make a sign that says 'garu-garulen' to put in your school sick bay.

Geography: Find Queensland on a map of Australia.


When Mike the snake gets lost in this classroom, the kids are more concerned with finding a word for the mess created looking for it, than with finding the actual snake. They're excited when they find the word: 'dirranyamgarra' from the NSW language of Wiradjuri. But oh-oh. Where's the actual snake?!

Spread the Word: Dirranyamgarra

Classroom activities

Art and design: In the video, the boy made a mess looking for the class snake. Draw a very, very long snake. Then write the word 'Dirranyamgarra' on it.

Music and maths: Use your body to make beats and practice sounding out the word 'Dirr-an-yam-garr-a', you could clap, stomp your feet, click, slap your knees or even use clapping sticks. Make up a pattern of beats to go with the word, then teach your pattern to a friend.


Like our heroes in this episode, every goalkeeper in the world needs to know how to stretch their arms wide to their sides. But that's a really long and convoluted way to explain that action. It's much easier to take the word 'yarroo' from the Western Australian Miriwoong language, and become the best goalkeeper ever!

Spread the Word: Yarroo

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: When might you need to stretch your arms wide open? Think of some examples, then say 'yaroo' after each example.

Art and design: Draw a picture of a person stretching their arms out wide, write the word 'yaroo' along each arm.

Geography: The Miriwoong language is spoken in the north of Western Australia. Draw and label a compass with the directions North, South, East and West.


Both of Mark's friends think he is such a cool kid. He's calm, relaxed, not worried or bothered by anything. What's the word for that kind of person? Long before 'hakuna matata', the Torres Strait Islander language of Kalaw Kawaw Ya had an amazing word for that! Kaynwoenag, the coolest word from the coolest people around.

Spread the Word: Kaynwoenag

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: Do you know someone who is 'kaynwoenag'? When do you feel 'kaynwoenag'?

Drama: Pretend to be very annoyed, stressed and angry. Now pretend to be 'kaynwoenag'. How does you body change? How do your facial expressions change? How does your breathing change?

Art and Design: Look at the design of the Torres Strait Island flag then draw or paint your own Torres Strait Islander flag.


You're waiting in a long line. You're annoyed and bored, and you just had enough. Familiar? For sure. Do you have a word for that? Probably not. But the South Australian Arabana community does! Tyawi-tyawithirnda: A bit long, but not as much as the line for the toilet is in this episode!

Spread the Word: Tyawi-tyawithirnda

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: Can you think of time when you have felt a bit boxed in, bored and wanted to escape?

Geography: Find South Australia on a map of Australia.

Art and design: Draw or paint a long line of people waiting for something. Then write the word Tyawi-tyawithirnda above their heads. Describe your artwork to a friend. What are the people lining up for?


Imagine this: You're nervous. You're sweating. Baboom, baboom, baboom, your heart is beating relentlessly in your chest. The Yawuru people of Western Australia call that feeling 'bidbidgaja'. And as our heroes in this episode find out, most kids feel the same before a race. Ready, set, go!

Spread the Word: Bidbidgaja

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: Tell a friend about a time when you felt so nervous your heart was beating.

Phonics: How many syllables in the word 'bidbidgaja'? Tap your chest while you say the word, as if your heart was beating loudly, and count the syllables.


The gymnastics instructor keeps fumbling when he tries to explain to his students a very specific action: lying on their belly. Luckily our friend from the Wajarri community in Western Australia comes to the rescue, with a word exactly for that: balajimanha. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages truly have words for everything!

Spread the Word:

Classroom activities

Physical education: Play Simon Says or Captain's Coming and include the instruction 'balajimanha', meaning "lie down on your stomach".

Inferencing/higher-order thinking: The word balajimanha comes from the wajarri community in Western Australia where there is a lot of desert. Why might you need to tell someone to lie down on their stomach in the desert?


How do you explain to your best friends, without insulting them, that you want to come and play with them but you simply can't? The young girls in this episode face exactly that problem. The solution? Wanjil, the Kuku Yalanji word for that exact occasion. Friendship saved!

Spread the Word: Wanjil

Classroom activities

Turn and talk: When have you really wanted to play with your friends but you haven't been able to? Have you ever had to miss a party or a fun event because you had other things to do? Share your experiences with a partner or small group then choose one example for a role play. Perform the play for the class, make sure the person who can't come and play says 'Wanjil' to their friends!

Art: Draw or paint a self portrait showing how your face looks when you miss out on doing something fun. Include a thought bubble in your artwork with the word 'wanjil' inside it. You might want to look at your face in a mirror then copy your expression as you draw.

About Spread the Word

First Languages Australia partnered with Disney and Media Farm to produce this 10-part series, introducing unique terms from Indigenous languages across the country. The series was originally broadcast during NAIDOC Week in 2019, UNESCO's International Year of Indigenous Languages.

About First Languages Australia

Founded in 2013, advocacy group First Languages Australia partners with organisations to promote and support the use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in both Indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Members of these communities feature in Spread the Word.

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