[lg policy] Australia: Student plea for better quality in language teaching

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 29 20:50:59 UTC 2013

Student plea for better quality in language teaching

    [image: Professor Jo Lo Bianco on campus at Melbourne University in

 Professor Jo Lo Bianco on campus at Melbourne University in Victoria.
*Source:* News Limited

* LANGUAGE students are crying out for better teaching and learning,
according to a pioneering study of the attitudes of school pupils. *

"They do not consider their learning experiences positively or likely to
succeed," say Melbourne University academics Joe Lo Bianco and Renata
Aliani in a new book on language planning.

Professor Lo Bianco and his colleague took the unusual step of canvassing
the opinions of secondary school students to find out why Australia's
ambitious language policies had met with such "uneven success".

Their 2005-2011 study drew on four schools from Western Victoria with
Italian and Japanese programs.

They found among students a "broadly positive response" to the rationale of
official language policy - Asia literacy and multiculturalism.

But students were not so impressed by the quality of their experience in
the class.

"The students, many of them in both languages, are calling for more
systematic and higher-quality language learning," the authors say.

"The lofty aims of policy declarations ride uneasily on such generally
reflective students and while many are waverers, perhaps the majority are
committed, or would be, if the language programmes offered were more
rigorous and active."

In their book, Language Planning and Student
the authors base this conclusion chiefly on an exercise in which senior
students ranked 25 statements of opinion that had emerged from focus groups.

One of the resulting "perspectives" among learners of Italian was given the
tag "Fix it, but ask us" - meaning these "students want to be able to
experience the language through direct activity - excursions, films and
cultural activities - and that students want to be involved in the
selection of teaching topics".

Another perspective was tagged "It's a bludge" - arising from statements
such as "It's an opportunity to catch up on other work 'cause we do nothing
in Italian".

In Japanese, one perspective was given the title "Let's use it more" -
reflecting the wish "for a more practical approach, which includes
excursions, fewer worksheets and activities such as cooking".

A less happy perspective was "I'm not following you" - which expressed
bewilderment as teachers moved through material too quickly, and touched on
problems of lack of motivation and disruption in a compulsory language

The authors argue that too little work has been done to see how the fruits
of language policy - "conceived in far away Cabinet meeting rooms" - are
experienced by students who sometimes have no choice but to learn a

Writing while Julia Gillard was prime minister, the authors touch on the
most recent federal foray into language policy, the Asian Century white

They say the "ongoing jostling for power" between Ms Gilard and the
Asianist Kevin Rudd "actually conditioned (Ms Gillard's) own interest in
Asian integration and language education".

And they note speculation by the political journalist Michelle Grattan in
2011 that should Mr Rudd return to power he could "inherit the policy
Gillard promoted partly to keep him at bay politically".

The authors say: "This rather bizarre source of innovation must be
unprecedented in the annals of language policy".

As it happened, Mr Rudd gave no obvious weight to the Gillard white paper
or Asia literacy once he returned as prime minister in 2013, and the new
Coalition government quietly consigned it to the archives.
- See more at:

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