Australia: Double agents

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jun 12 14:01:24 UTC 2006

Double agents

June 12, 2006

High academic achievement, more rounded thinkers and students
in step with a global economy. These are the benefits of a bilingual
education. So why aren't governments doing more to promote it? By Leigh

STEVE BALOGH is happy to drive his 11-year-old son, Stuart, 14 kilometres
to school from St Kilda to Oakleigh South. Earlier starts and battling
peak-hour traffic are a small price to pay for a leap in learning.
Stuart's school, Huntingdale Primary, has a bilingual program in Japanese.
It means the students are taught some subjects, such as physical
education, science, art and music, in Japanese. Stuart, who is in grade 6,
has a very good grasp of the language, but Steve says it only really
"clicked" a couple of years ago. "Initially he wasn't too happy about
doing it, but he got to do extra lessons and he was fine,'' he says. Steve
adds the spin-off benefits of the Japanese program at Huntingdale have
been immeasurable. "I find Stuart is exceedingly tolerant of everyone. He
doesn't see people as being of a particular race," he says.

At Bayswater South Primary, the school just celebrated 25 years of
bilingual education. It teaches science, technology, art and general
studies classes in German. Principal Mary-Ann Williams says the school's
program has been an outstanding success with students and teachers. "Our
bilingual education program helps students gain a greater understanding of
both the German and English languages, as they are required to think more
deeply about language and linguistics, while learning about science," Mrs
Williams says. She says one of the benefits of bilingualism is that
students' risk-taking skills have improved dramatically. "It teaches
children to be divergent thinkers and really explore their problem-solving
skills," she says.

Bilingualism is widely accepted in Australian society but passionate
supporters of bilingual education believe governments aren't doing enough
to promote its benefits. Bilingual education and LOTE again missed out on
extra funding in the May 30 state budget. The Modern Language Teachers'
Association of Victoria is so disturbed by what it perceives as a lack of
support that it has launched a campaign of advocacy of languages in the
lead-up to the November state election. President Andrew Ferguson says the
State Government and school principals are becoming "short-sighted'' about
the learning of languages. He says languages are taking a back seat
because of the big push to improve literacy and numeracy (The budget
allocated a further $11.7 million into this area for special "literacy
squads".) But he warns it will be to our detriment as the state risked
"dumbing down its workforce".

Mr Ferguson says the European Union's "two plus one'' language policy
assumed everyone had three languages, whereas in Australia - federally and
statewide - there was an increasing acceptance of monolingualism. "It's
important we have bilingual people because that is the world of the
future,'' Mr Ferguson says. "As a society, we are going to fall behind."
In the City of Greater Dandenong alone, half the population was born
overseas and more than 150 different languages are spoken in homes,
according to statistics from the South Eastern Regional Migrant Resource
Centre. Yet Victoria has only a smattering of schools offering bilingual
education - where two or more subjects are taught in another language (in
addition to LOTE).

In the state education system there are 12 primary and three secondary
schools with designated bilingual programs, offering at least 7.5 hours a
week teaching subjects such as the arts, science or technology in another
language. Occasionally a school offers more hours in the target language.
Camberwell Primary School, for example, has half of all classes in French.
Only a few independent schools have bilingual programs, including
Bendigo's Girton Grammar School, Methodist Ladies College and Trinity
Grammar. The Catholic Education Office does not keep statistics on schools
offering bilingual education. Plans are under way to open a new German
school - Deutsche Schule Melbourne: A German International School. Up to
90 per cent of classes will be taught in German.

For now, some parents who want their children to have a bilingual
education must travel long distances to access the programs. Those who
have embraced bilingual education are eagerly awaiting results of a
Department of Education review of bilingual schools to be completed some
time this year. They are hoping for more funding. A department spokeswoman
put present funding at a little more than $2 million a year, which
provides 20.8 teachers and 17 teacher aides. She would not comment on any
possible funding increase until the review was completed. Mr Ferguson is
enthusiastic about state's bilingual project but he believes more
principals are reluctant to take that path because they first must
convince the school population about the benefits of bilingualism.

Professor Michael Clyne, a language expert, says bilingualism is widely
accepted but some parents are concerned bilingual education is somehow
inferior to a monolingual experience. To help combat this, Professor Clyne
- an honorary professorial fellow in the School of Languages and
Linguistics at the University of Melbourne - has called on governments to
do more to promote and expand bilingual education. While bilingual schools
are enrolling more children, he believes there has not been a big increase
in the programs across the board, particularly compared with Europe.
Germany, for example, has about 600 bilingual programs. Professor Clyne
says Australians - unlike much of the world - remain "proudly
monolingual'' and that this attitude has increased in the past few
decades. In his book Australia's Language Potential, published last year,
he explores the paradox of "a nation rich in language resources, yet
characterised (at government and community level) by monolingual

Professor Clyne says state education testing has showed bilingual children
often outperform their monolingual counterparts. The Education Department
does not collate data comparing the academic performance of students at
state schools with bilingual programs with other students. But at
Bayswater South, the 2005 teacher assessments against the curriculum
standards framework in English found that students in prep and grades 2, 4
and 6 were performing well. In all cases, school means were higher than
those of "like school group" and state results. "There is a lot of
evidence that language and literacy skills are transferred from one
language to another," Professor Clyne says. "One of the spin-offs of
bilingual education is that children who grow up bilingually think in
different ways to monolingual children. They realise that language is
something arbitrary - they realise the difference between form and

In Australia's Language Potential, Professor Clyne cites much research to
support this. One example is a 1986 study of Bayswater South's German
bilingual program. Researcher Anne Eckstein found the children learning
science in German were "performing better or significantly better in both
scientific general knowledge and concepts and skills than comparable peers
learning the same material in English". Dr Lindy Norris, senior lecturer
in education at Western Australia's Murdoch University, evaluated the
state's bilingual schools programs five years ago. She says the research
found nothing negative in the programs overall, but one weakness
identified was too much emphasis on developing children's receptive skills
and not enough on productive skills (their ability to speak the language).
"If they don't get into the business of getting kids to talk, then they
are reluctant to do so - we found that in the evaluation of the secondary
(schools) program," Dr Norris says.

Ross Moor, the principal at Huntingdale Primary Bilingual School, says the
Government could do more to promote bilingual education, to make parents
aware of its benefits. The school still operates its program on the same
funding it received in 1997 at the program's inception, despite student
numbers having roughly doubled from 91 to 171. But Mr Moor is "very
optimistic" that the Government will increase funding next year. He says
the program is attracting inquiries from parents overseas. A quarter of
the students at the school are from a Japanese background.  "We've got
three native Japanese teachers on staff, then each week we have up to 10
Japanese volunteers working at the school," Mr Moor says. He says the
children have a high level of Japanese language skills and it shows in
their results.

"Research on bilingual programs shows it improves children right across
all areas," Mr Moor says. "Our AIM results in 2005 were in the top 10 per
cent of the state in English and maths (for grade 3 and 5 students)."
Other schools give similar glowing reports. Westall Secondary College -
where all of the 500 students are either from overseas or have at least
one parent from a non-English-speaking background - offers a bilingual
program in Chinese and Greek. The school teaches five languages in its
LOTE program and is the only school in Australia to teach Khmer
(Cambodian). Principal Vernita Zigouras says the bilingual program teaches
language through the arts, such as photography, music and ceramics. She
describes it as a more inclusive program (the local Chinese community had
favoured teaching accounting in Chinese as a career pathway).

"Everyone in this school speaks another language, so when we are
introducing them to another one, we have got to have a common thread of
English," Ms Zigouras says. Camberwell's 50/50 French and English
bilingual program is well established and has achieved international
recognition. "We've always had people from further afield. It (the
program) is absolutely fabulous because youngsters are able to develop a
level of proficiency in French they could never get from another program,"
principal Christine Moore says. She says the benefits of learning other
languages have not always been recognised in this country.

"When we had people coming from overseas, the languages they were bringing
were a huge resource to us," she says. Claudia Raab, a board member of the
planned Deutsche Schule, says German-speaking countries are now
Australia's third most important trading partners. "A knowledge of German
improves your chances in the job market, both with many German companies
abroad and with foreign companies in German-speaking countries and in the
European Union," Ms Raab says. The Germany Consulate set the wheels in
motion for a German bilingual school in Melbourne after receiving many
inquiries from Germans overseas wanting to move here. A German bilingual
school is already established in Sydney.

The Melbourne school is yet to find a site but expects its list of 50
interested families to swell once it settles on a location. Once up and
running, the school will take children from prep to year 12, including an
International Baccalaureate program. In prep and grade 1, 90 per cent of
classes will be taught in German.  Students will learn to read and write
in German and one year later do the same in English. By grade 6, the
proportion of classes taught in English will amount to half and then to 80
per cent by year 11, a structure based on the successful Canadian "Early
Immersion Program'' for bilingual schools. The school will be privately
funded and, although it is not a religious school, is considering a
funding arrangement with the German Lutheran Church, Trinity Church and
Catholic Church. Fees will be about $6000 a year.

Ms Raab says the German Government will monitor the school for three years
and fund two teaching positions if the school succeeds. She says many
expressions of interest in the school have come from mixed
German/Australian families and expatriates, but also regular Victorians
"looking at alternatives". Ms Raab says she believes Australians are
becoming more aware of the benefits of speaking two languages. "Melbourne
will become more interesting for German-speaking businesses and
investors," she says. While businesses see the benefits of a workforce
armed with multiple languages, it is taking longer to permeate through the
rest of Australian society.

Professor Clyne says: "Thirty years ago teachers were urging even parents
with very little English to speak nothing but English to their children
with disastrous consequences. There is now a widespread acceptance of
bilingualism and I know from experience that many teachers are supporting
this. However, there is still a lot of misunderstanding of bilingualism
and I don't believe attitudes are uniform across Australia.'' Parent Steve
Mr Balogh says he believes bilingual programs appeal to many parents but
some still regard learning another language as "a bit of a waste of time".
He believes the problem is that children only study the language for an
hour a week - not nearly enough time, and "a great shame". When Mr Balogh
started school, he didn't "know a word of English", having come to
Australia from Hungary with his family.

"I went to school in prep and it only took me three months to pick up
English," he says. "With Stuart, I thought we had an opportunity to get
him to learn the language from an early age." Mr Balogh and and his wife,
Val Johnson, chose Japanese for Stuart because it was a language that was
"a little bit different" and because he had already had a head start. A
Japanese woman was living with them around the time Stuart was born and
when he was a toddler she began speaking to him in the language. The
Balogh family continues to immerse itself in Japanese culture and
language. They are now hosting a Japanese teacher from the school and
Stuart will visit Japan later this year with his grade.

Speaking their language

YUKARI NIBUN and Bjorn Wilhelms are eagerly awaiting to enrol their
children Mika, 5, and Mai, 2, in Melbourne's planned German school. They
want to ensure their children are taught in at least two of the three
languages spoken at home. Multilingualism features strongly in the lives
of the Hampton family.  Yukari is completing a master's with a focus on
bilingualism at the University of Melbourne. She was born in Japan and
Bjorn is from Germany. The family policy - a "one-parent, one-language
approach" - means she speaks only Japanese to the children and her husband
only German. They speak German to each other.

Yukari believes the proposed bilingual German school - Deutsche Schule
Melbourne - will give her children many educational benefits and a broader
perspective on other cultures and values. She says it would be a hard task
to keep up three languages without the help of their school. "I am quite
passionate about raising them trilingually," she says. "In the future, if
they want to study, it will open up the door for them. I wanted to keep
all options open." She hopes by offering the International Baccalaureate,
the school will give her children the chance to study anywhere in the
world, including Japan.

Yukari believes more parents are embracing the benefits of bilingualism
and a country like Australia offers the best environment to embrace other
languages and cultures. "There was a stage where teachers would say,
'Don't speak any other language than English at home'. That stage has


- Academic achievement - improvement in literacy, cognitive development
and thinking skills

- Work and career opportunities - the ability to compete on a global,
multilingual job market

- Global citizenship - gaining the ability to deal respectfully with

- Personal beliefs - opportunities to travel through student exchange and
tours, communication worldwide

- Maintenance of culture identity and diversity

Source: Modern Language Teachers Association of Victoria

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list