Australian blog on "Asian languages" issue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon May 14 13:20:08 UTC 2007

Graham Bell  on 12 May 2007 at 3:09

[Quoting] Brian on Asian languages:


"A couple of decades ago I recall the Feds being shocked to the core to find
that only one in 3,000 who learned Asian languages in schools went on to
develop fluency."

Why the surprise? Australian business was wilfully ignorant of the need to
have home-grown Asian language skills, despite all the hoopla-and-ballyhoo
about our need to engage with Asia. Regardless of the level of proficiency,
there was only ever a tiny handful of paid jobs where those skills were used
- and most of those pitifully few jobs went to native-speaker migrants. Far
from alleviating the problem, the Commonwealth government actually
exacerbated it. It is no wonder that students coming through the pipeline
saw how those ahead of them had fared then deserted Asian languages in
droves. Contrast that situation with the EU where almost everybody has a
second and third language [usually from a different language group to their
mother-tongue]. A Rudd Labor givernment will continue to reward firms for
not hiring Australians with Asian language skills…..


"What language is taught in primary schools typically dependes on the
expertise available"

Only in part - because there are people with the requisite skills out in the
community. The other, more serious part is gatekeeping by those in the
education system itself. There is no way in the wide world that any Rudd
Labor government will ever break through that bureaucratic barrier.


"developing Asian language skills is a big ask. "

No it's not. Difference should not be confused with difficulty. One of the
many reasons I detest the failed, orthodox "LOTE" system is that it turns
these differences into real difficulties.

Unless a Rudd Labor government has the guts ignore the wails of the LOTE
fuddy-duddies and push ahead with reform of the whole creaky old language
learning system, it will do no better at promoting Asian language learning
than has the Howard government.
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