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True to her word

Friday, 28th January, 2011

Mary-Ruth Mendel, founder of The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. Mary-Ruth Mendel, founder of The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

By Andrew Robertson

When it comes to the spoken word, Australia is a nation of frank-talking people, according to the founder of The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.

Mary-Ruth Mendel, who started the charity 12 years ago to teach marginalised Australians how to read and write, said Aussies also used "a pro-active form of speaking".

These two traits, according to Mrs Mendel, forged a "mind-set" among people that got things done.

"We have words that create action," said Mrs Mendel, who was in the city this week.

She said one area where this straight-talking tendency was most affective was was when it came to discussing the "caring and sharing" of other people.

"Australians, I think, ask questions, and have a way of tackling difficult issues," Mrs Mendel said.

"We do talk frankly and openly."

But the whole thing only works if people understand each other, which is where The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation lends a hand.

Mrs Mendel's foundation helps parents, teachers and health professionals to support struggling children with "extra underpinning" to help them learn.

She said speech patholgy can often help bring understanding to children who don't get the "uh-huh" moment at school.

"If kids don't get it, then sitting at the table at home won't work either," Mrs Mendel said.

"If you don't have literacy you don't have a key to the language."

Mrs Mendel spent Australia Day at White Cliffs as the opal town's Australia Day ambassador.

While it was her first trip to the township, it is the fourth year she has been an Australia Day ambassador.

"I love it. The places where I've been, I've met real Australians, celebrating Australia and talking about what it means to be Australian."

The Sydney speech pathologist said her address at the Australia Day ceremony in White Cliffs was about the way Australians "talk and relate to each other".

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