This week our school was featured on an ABC show (Newsline – Language Barrier)reporting the decline in Asian Languages taught in schools. The show pointed to the low numbers of students continuing their language studies in VCE [which is our final year of schooling].
I think its accepted that its harder to sustain teaching languages other English in Australian schools because of the perceived tyranny of distance [its easier to establish the need or necessity when you live next door or an hour or so away from countries that speak other languages]. This has factor has always been present for Australians. I find it interesting that the tyranny of distance in the LOTE argument hasn’t decreased given the boom of people travelling for work or leisure. In my own school there are an estimated 6% of students currently travelling with their parents overseas – during the school term – lots of them in Asian countries.
I think a second factor is the spread of English as a language across the globe has increased. I watched a youtube clip recently which said that China will soon be the number 1 English speaking country in the world.
However I feel there is something powerful in being able to communicate to another person in their native language – I think it sends a message that you have taken the energy and time to learn about them – their language and their culture.
We chose Mandarin as a language for our students to learn. I think parents who had a voice in the decision believed that Australia was either part of Asia or strongly connected to it and that it was in their children’s long term interests to learn not only the language but the culture.
My theory about the decline in Asian languages being studied is that they are not consistently embedded in and across primary school curriculum’s and it becomes too hard if you haven’t continuously learnt them over the 13 years of compulsory schooling. I think there should be seamless transitions between primary and secondary schools so that students can continue their learning and in this case Mandarin. Sounds easy – its not where students go to 20 different secondary schools across diverse systems.
I am going to China in 4 weeks as a school leader with others from around Australia and New Zealand to learn something about the pedagogy of teaching Mandarin in schools, embrace the culture first hand and start to make some connections to educators and schools in Beijing.
Perhaps my sharing these experiences might encourage other school leaders to do the same and thereby make a start towards a continuous langauge experience?