30 December 2012

Who has a “I will learn a second language” as a 2013 resolution?

I have never been one for setting resolutions at the beginning of a new year. However, many people do and I started to wonder about learning resolutions.

In particular Who is thinking;

“I will learn a second language” as a 2013 resolution?

Here in OZ we are living in a land of contradictions in regard to second language learning. I have been trying to make sense of it for over ten years and I am no wiser as to who, what, where, when and how Aussies should learn languages.

Learning languages is indeed a conundrum, an enigma that at present can not be solved.


Who should learn a second language in Oz?

Well we all should be learn one (maybe two). This year we have had two policies state that children should learn a second language. Launched quite recently is the “Australia in the Asian Century” where we are told that all Australia children will be given an opportunity to learn an Asian language. The White Paper states Priority Asian languages include Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.This year the Australian Curriculum announced that Chinese Mandarin and Italian will be our educational focus. However in the future, curriculums will be developed for eleven foreign languages. 


Now we are getting into what languages should be taught and learnt. Here is a list (in no particular order);

  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Modern Greek
  • Vietnamese

Reasons behind these choices can be found here; Chinese, Italian lead new curriculum. So here we have some conflict. One hand we are told engage with Asia and at the same time we shall teach all these other languages (maybe more) too! The White Paper says one thing the Aussie Curriculum says another. Conflict conflict everywhere. One says focus on Asian languages the other says learn all the languages….the more the merrier.


Where shall we learn languages? Well in schools of course. Haven’t you been paying attention. I am going to go out on a limb here. Australian Children make very poor language learners. A decade and a half or so ago I taught Japanese. It was the lingua franca in Ozzie schools. The language of choice. The Japanese economy was booming. We should all learn Japanese. Well I am now meeting the generation of students who were at school when this was the language fad. They can say hello in Japanese and maybe (maybe) count to ten.

On hearing that I was a Japanese language teacher I often hear the following story from some grinning baboon; 

“I learned Japanese when I was at school and I remember nothing”

…and am I supposed to be impressed?

All I hear is that students will be able to learn languages at school. They will be forced and there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair because they have to learn language X.

Who (again)

I put it to you that perhaps our target audience language learners should be willing adults (young and old). I am happy for willing Children to learn language X too. I just think that willing receptive adults in Oz adults should be encouraged to learn languages. Our colleges, our night schools, our language clubs even our Universities should be given funding and resources to teach languages.


Now of course. We have had a decade aptly called by language teachers “The lost decade of languages” (perhaps they are the captain obvious language teachers). This lost decade has seen a decrease of funding and importance of languages in education. We hit the lowest point ever this year. The media proudly announced Lots of stats and facts of how we are the worst at learning teaching languages. Well perhaps that is over now. Perhaps…


Why well we need captain obvious again here. China will  soon be a world superpower. Enough said.


I still see our Oz media telling everyone engage with Asia learn a language (preferably Asian). I don’t see many schools teaching Chinese Mandarin. I do see a lot of schools clinging to Japanese.  I don’t see Australian governments throwing money at languages (yet).  I don’t see community groups and night schools (except small groups in the major cities) springing up to teach Chinese.  I don’t see our TAFEs (colleges) and Universities founding, encouraging and pushing language studies. I don’t see our libraries filling their shelves with learn language X books.  There is still a lot of talk about learning languages there is very little action. There is no price tag (except in the most negative and detrimental) way attached to our “Learn a Language.” push.

So back to my original question. Who will set “I will learn a second language (preferably Asian) in 2013” as a new years resolution? Almost no one. 

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