Jay Laga’aia hosts this new SBS series that follows eight brave men and women as they improve their reading and writing.

18 Aug 2021 - 9:01 AM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2021 - 8:28 AM

Seeing lots of words and not knowing what’s what? Welcome to the world of millions of Australian adults! 

More than 43% of Australian adults don’t have the necessary literacy skills needed for everyday life. That’s about seven million Australian adults, many of whom are not able to read a text message, to decipher the destination of a train or bus, or to use the internet. 

Lost for Words follows eight brave Australians taking on a life-changing opportunity to transform their lives in an intensive nine-week long adult literacy program. Hosted and narrated by literacy advocate Jay Laga’aia, this is an empowering and uplifting observational documentary that confronts Australia’s staggeringly low adult literacy rate.

Watch the trailer:

In this three-part documentary series, the participants take part in intensive tailored classes. They also embark on challenging real-world tasks to put their newfound reading, writing and spelling skills to the test. It is an emotional and confronting journey, as the participants face and overcome shame and stigma that they have battled for many years.

From a mother who wants to be able to read a children’s book to her daughter and son, to others’ dreams of completing a driving test or being able to order from a menu for their partner, all eight participants are driven by different motivations to improve their reading and writing skills.

The group is also joined by special guests - renowned Indigenous chef Mark Olive, award-winning author Jackie French and actor, writer and director Marcus Graham - during various phases of this life-changing journey.

Host Jay Laga’aia says: “Working on this project made me realise how important words truly are. They raise not only your confidence but also your sense of worth. Not being able to read or write stigmatises a person for life and they hide their little secret, fearful that society will dismiss them. The fact that over seven million Australians struggle with literacy issues in their day-to-day lives makes me proud to witness the journey that our participants took to be where they are today.”

Lost for Words is an inspirational tale of how a bunch of strangers came together to face their fear of going back to the classroom. It documents their trials and tribulations. It’s honest, raw, uncomfortable and challenging and you can’t help but cheer for your favourite in the group, and at the end of this journey, a bunch of strangers become a family. They are brave beyond measure and they are you,” he adds.


SBS Head of Documentaries Joseph Maxwell says: “This is an inspiring and uplifting series that shines a light on a huge issue within Australia. It showcases how great documentaries can be both deeply emotional as well as surprising and entertaining.”

One of the key teachers on the series, President of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) Jo Medlin, says: “Many Australian adults have literacy gaps but it’s not something talked about ... Our literacy learners have been incredibly brave in coming forward to say they struggle with reading, writing and spelling." The teachers' aim, she says, was to create a space where the students felt safe and supported, with no judgement. Each student was given an individualised program based on their needs and goals. An important part of this program was encouraging the participants to reinvent the way they see themselves – the aim, she says, was for them to "exit the program with the confidence that they can live a literate life, with literacy not as a barrier, but as a tool for lifelong learning”.

The series will be subtitled in five languages, streaming on SBS On Demand in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.

Lost for Words is an Endemol Shine production for SBS. 

Lost For Words premieres 8.30pm Wednesday 22 September on SBS and SBS On Demand. 


About Host and Narrator Jay Laga’aia

Jay Laga'aia is a much-loved actor and children's entertainer. 

His film credits include Nim's Island and Star Wars, and television credits on Home and Away, Bed of Roses, Legend of the Seeker, Xena Warrior Princess and of course, Play School! He has played Mufasa in The Lion King, The Wizard in Wicked The Musical, and performed in Children of the Sun with Sydney Theatre Company. 

A gifted musician, Jay has written and recorded four children's albums with ABC for Kids and toured his live show throughout Australia. He’s performed with the Queensland, Melbourne and WA Symphony Orchestras, and will perform with Sydney Symphony Orchestra in December this year. 

In 2017 Jay appeared in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here on Network Ten, and on the new FOXTEL drama series Fighting Season. He also filmed the fourth season of his children’s television show Jay’s Jungle for 7TWO. He starred in the Sydney Opera House Classic Christmas Concerts with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the pantomime Puss in Boots at Angel Place.  Jay played the title role in Shrek The Musical at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre in 2019, then toured with the hilarious production Peter Pan Goes Wrong.  In 2020 Jay joined the cast of Channel 9’s Doctor Doctor

Jay is the Queensland Government’s ‘The Early Years Count’ ambassador and is a passionate advocate for early childhood education and early literacy.  He is also is a proud father of eight.


About the teachers 

Jo Medlin

An adult literacy and numeracy specialist and advocate, Jo has over more than 25 years’ experience in teaching and curriculum development and is the President of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL). With a passion for helping adults who struggle learning literacy, Jo has taught in vocational education at TAFE and in workplaces. She’s also on the National Education Industry Reference Committee, The Reading Writing Hotline Steering Committee, and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s Foundation Skills Advisory Committee. 

Adam Nobilia 

Prior to working as a teacher on Lost for Words, Adam Nobilia worked for 13 years in Corrective Services as a Special Education teacher, where he continues to work on a part-time basis. He teaches literacy, numeracy and vocational skills as well as psycho-education programs designed to reduce offending behaviour and recidivism. His work extends to facilitating groups for parolees who have been convicted of a Domestic and Family violence offence in addition to delivering the Sober Driver Program. Of an evening, he teaches the Certificate III in Community Services course to Aboriginal Students at EORA TAFE in Redfern. Adam has qualifications in Education as well as Counselling, which inform his work as an adult Educator. In his personal life, Adam writes and performs music under the moniker 'Adam Blacksmith' and is about to release his third studio album, “Blind to the Sea”.

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