Aboriginal languages are in danger of being wiped out in the next decade, with only 18 of an estimated 250 original languages still spoken by significant numbers of people.
Those who speak Aboriginal languages as a first language face stark disadvantage and social problems, a report has found.
After more than a year of work, Parliament's standing committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs yesterday released a wide-ranging report recommending urgent work be done to ensure as many languages as possible survive, and that speakers of those languages are not further marginalised from mainstream society.
The committee said an alternative to NAPLAN should be found to assess children whose first languages were not English, including Aboriginal and migrant children.
Students sit NAPLAN tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, but research shows children learning English as a second language often do not become proficient until the latter years of primary school.
The committee chairman, Labor MP Shayne Neumann, said NAPLAN was not "culturally neutral".
"It doesn't permit learners to demonstrate what they know and what they can do if they are not being taught in their first language," he said.
Teaching children in their own languages would lift literacy rates among Aboriginal children, the committee found. It said bilingual programs should be introduced to teach children from Aboriginal communities whose first language was a traditional or Creole language.
Liberal MP Sharman Stone, the committee's deputy chairwoman, said this should go further.
"The fundamentals are the same, we believe," she said. "Whatever home language you bring to that school in the first instance, or that preschool, you should be taught in that language. And I include other language speakers in that as well, if you speak Sudanese or Congolese, but you work from there, so the child has the best chance."
Dr Stone said concerted moves during the 20th century to forbid Aboriginal communities and people removed from their families under the stolen generations policy from speaking traditional languages made it "a miracle we still have 20 or so spoken across Australia".
The committee recommended that all Australian teachers be given compulsory training in English as an additional language or dialect.
It said training Aboriginal language interpreters and introducing a national indigenous interpreter service should be high priorities. At present, the responsibility for providing interpreters falls to the states and territories, and the sector is characterised by shortages and differing standards.
Mr Neumann said that in visits to 23 towns, communities or cities as part of the committee's work, "there wasn't a place we went where there weren't difficulties with interpreters".