Australia: lost in translation

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jun 2 16:08:30 UTC 2007

Lost in translation: language crisis targeted June 2, 2007

   - Not minding our

STUDENTS from primary school to year 10 would be required to study a second
language as part of a national push by university chiefs to stem the
language "crisis" in schools. Under the plan, all year 12 graduates would
also get a 10 per cent bonus on their university entry scores if they
successfully complete a language other than English in their final year at
school. The Group of Eight leading research universities yesterday called
for immediate action by state and federal governments if Australia was to
avoid the economic and national security consequences of becoming a
"monolingual nation".

The move comes as figures show the rate of year 12 students graduating with
a second language has dropped from 40 per cent in the 1960s to 13 per cent
today ― with Australian students spending less time learning a language than
all other countries in the OECD. "Crisis is not too strong a word to
describe the decline in foreign language education in our schools and
universities," said Group of Eight executive director Michael Gallagher.
"Our national deficit in foreign language capability is something we can no
longer afford to ignore. It is Australia's great unrecognised skills
shortage, and the one most directly relevant to our competitiveness and
security in an increasingly global environment."

In a discussion paper released yesterday, universities suggest making it
compulsory for all students to study a second language from primary school
to year 10. Each state would decide which second language should be studied,
and the subject would be gradually phased in as a mandatory requirement.
Federal Labor ― which has already announced a pre-election policy for
additional Asian language classes in schools ― endorsed the discussion paper
yesterday. But Education Minister Julie Bishop said that while she supported
the teaching of foreign languages in schools, "the Australian Government
believes that we must strive for higher standards in English literacy as a
national priority".

The discussion paper also recommends:

■Expanding to other states the Victorian practice of giving high school
graduates a bonus on their university entry scores for completing a second
language in year 12.

■A national promotional campaign to spruik the benefits of learning other
languages. The campaign would "clearly reject the notion English native
speakers do not need to be multi-lingual because they have natural
advantages over speakers of other languages", the paper says.

■More funding to strengthen language courses at university, and boost the
skills and numbers of language teachers across the education system.

Universities admit that there is no one quick-fix solution to the lack of
interest in languages. But the Group of Eight yesterday hit out at "decades
of policy neglect and inaction" by governments, including the Coalition's
2002 decision to scrap the national Asian languages and studies in
Australian schools strategy, which doubled the number of Asian language
learners in schools in the 1990s. The paper also says the effort to maintain
language studies at university had been hampered by financial and
administrative problems. Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith said:
"The state of language education in Australia is a glaring weakness for a
country that must compete internationally. "Too many young Australians miss
out on the opportunity to learn a relevant foreign language." But Ms Bishop
said the Government supported languages teaching through its $112 million
school languages program, delivered through the states to schools.
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