[lg policy] Smarter kids need to speak in many tongues. Australia is woefully behind in the teaching of a second language.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 12 15:36:13 UTC 2012

Smarter kids need to speak in many tongues

    November 12, 2012

Ken Cruickshank

Australia is woefully behind in the teaching of a second language.

Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

When it comes to creating a bilingual Australia there is a deep hole
between rhetoric and reality - between the allocation of funds and the
benefits. We know that parents want languages taught; we know that
teachers see languages as important and we also know that children
generally like studying languages. But nothing is happening.

In the past 40 years there have been 67 government language policies,
reports and reviews in Australia. The first Asian language report was
in 1970 when the push was for Indonesian. Then in 1980s and '90s the
push was for Japanese and Asia ''literacy''. In the last decade
Chinese programs have been the priority.

The landmark National Policy on Languages in 1987 was recognised
internationally as a model policy, but the targets set by the
subsequent National Asian Languages Studies in Australian Schools
Strategy of 60 per cent of year 10 students studying an Asian language
by 2006 were not met. Despite the $200 million spent between 1994 and
2002, secondary-language teaching finds itself now in a terminal state
not able to achieve even some of the goals Julia Gillard has outlined
in the Asian Century White Paper.

In Australia, only 12 per cent of students take a language in year 12
compared with 50 per cent in the US and Britain. In the rest of the
world, language study is the norm.

The main reason for this gap is that the Federal government provides
funding but it does not employ teachers or run schools. So we have
funding for short-term programs.

The states are in charge of education and things have gone from bad to
worse. French and Japanese are still taught in private schools, but in
state and Catholic schools there are a few community languages and not
much else. It is not easy for schools.

If they employ a languages teacher, which other teacher will they
lose? NSW premier Barry O'Farrell recently cut $1.7 billion from state
schools and will spend it on roads because he thinks he will get extra
money from the Commonwealth for the Gonski review changes. So, how can
we get young people studying languages again? How can we get schools
offering languages again?

In Australia there are 100,000 children and 4000 volunteer teachers
learning and teaching languages in after-hours community languages
schools. About half of these teach Asian languages. About 40 per cent
of these teachers have unrecognised qualifications from overseas. Why
not give them courses to upgrade their skills and to learn how to
teach in local schools? It will not cost much.

Or we could raise the profile and status of languages with a bonus for
languages at the HSC. Why not get universities to give preference to
languages study? In the US, 25 per cent of universities require
language study for entry. In Europe, they have the Common European
Framework for Reference for Languages and a LanguagePassport. This
means that students can be accredited for different levels of language
fluency and transfer this accreditation to wherever they study. What
better incentive.

Nearly every country in the world makes the study of a second language
compulsory in schooling. In Britain it is mandatory to study a
language between seven and 14. In Australia, it is compulsory to study
maths, english, science, history, geography, P.E., creative arts and
everything else, but NOT a language.

Research shows that people with a second language have better
cognitive and thinking skills; they have better intercultural skills;
they have advantages in terms of careers.

So, I admit I am cynical about another policy and program but please,
oh please, can someone do something to save languages education in
Australia before it goes down the gurgler.

Associate professor Ken Cruickshank is conducting a three-year
ARC-funded study investigating ways to build languages resources in
schools and communities.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/smarter-kids-need-to-speak-in-many-tongues-20121111-2967x.html#ixzz2C1UWem7T

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