15 July 2012

Are Australians too slow to understand others?

Quite a mixed bag of language related stories this week. All saying much the same thing. It seems that government is good at producing reports about learning languages and the media is good at reporting the same information in a slightly different way. 
"The pledge from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in his Budget reply speech last month to lift the study of foreign languages dramatically, particularly Asian languages.
He said exposure to foreign languages should begin at preschool. And he committed to having at least 40 per cent of Australian Year 12 students taking a language other than English within a decade if he wins government."
Only 12% of Australian students study a language.  Australia Education is one of the worst in the world at teaching schoolchildren second languages. We are far worse than European or Asian countries.

There is a popular argument that our students must learn to speak and write English first before starting a foreign language. Research has found that second language learning can enhance skills in their first language.

Language teaching requires specialist teachers.  To achieve Mr Abbot's universities need to train a new generation of language teachers. Australia is not isolated from the rest of the world, we need to do more than talk about language learning.

Australians too slow to understand others

Right now Australia has approximately 6700 language teachers in secondary schools. A recent survey was intended to show if there were language teacher shortages. Questions have been asked in parliament about the current supply of language teachers, the past supply of language teachers and Tony Abbott's promise of language teaching in the future. 
Dilemmas of language teacher supply

Under a Coalition Government the following would happen;
"If elected, the Coalition says it would work "urgently'' with the states to make sure at least 40 per cent of Year 12 students take a language within a decade. The proportion doing so now is about 12 per cent; about 6 per cent study one of the four Asian languages."
 Our current Federal Government has recently done the following;
"Last week school education minister Peter Garrett announced funding of $870,000 for the Asia Education Foundation to help put into practice Asian literacy elements of the national curriculum."
Bernard Lane explains why Australia's tertiary institutes are falling behind with their foreign language policies.  Australia's Language Problem Video 

Highlights include;
  • 60 or more reports of past years about language learning in Australian education.
  • Policies keep chopping and changing
  • Australian students do poorly in learning languages
  • 12% Year 12 students are currently learning a language other than English
  • Only 6% are currently learning an Asian priority language, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian
  • Only 3% of year 12 students are learning Chinese Mandarin
  • Of that 90% of those learning Chinese Mandarin are of a Chinese heritage background
  • Mandarin hardly exists as a mainstream language in Australian education
  • Mixed messages are being received by parents and students
  • It is important to learn a language, however in schools language learning is not taken seriously.  This is confusing everyone.
  • Language teachers are often running part-time language programs across different schools
  • Streaming is a problem
  • Students learning Chinese are often discouraged by competing with Chinese heritage speakers
  • A profound cultural change is necessary to improve current language teaching
When will serious teaching of Asian languages in Australian schools happen?


  1. Chinese language is one the languages that I intend to learn.

  2. Its good to teach second language as this helps a lot in different manners.


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