Monday, March 7, 2011

Young linguists

Learning another language is an important part of our children’s schooling

HANDS up if someone in your household can speak a second language – my hand is held high because my husband speaks Afrikaans.
Statistics gathered in 2006 show that 11.9 per cent of Far Northerners (around 45,850 people) speak a language other than English at home.
This might not seem like a great number, but it’s actually the highest in the state and evidence that languages are one of the ways we define ourselves, our culture and our country.
Among some of the languages spoken in this part of the world are Japanese, Italian, Chinese (including Cantonese and Mandarin), Dutch, Australian Indigenous languages, Torres Strait Island languages, German, French, Tagalog, Croatian, Greek, Korean, Vietnamese, Polish, Filipino and Spanish.
Now when I was growing up, my school didn’t have a language teacher, so I was never taught, nor had the opportunity, to learn a second language.
But I’m very glad my daughters will have that opportunity in their future schooling.
Recently, the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages draft paper was released, proposing that students from year 3 learn a language. The paper, released by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, provides a broad conceptualisation of the languages learning area that, once finalised, will be used to guide development of the languages curriculum from Prep to year 12.

It “envisages” that 300 to 400 classroom hours will be dedicated to the subject in either Prep to year 6 or in a year 3/4 to year 6 phase.
Year 7 and 8 students will learn 130 to 160 hours, the same as in years 9 and 10, while years 11 and 12 would possibly have 200 to 240 hours.
Chinese curriculum would be developed first, reflecting a “national priority”, along with Italian, because it is already the most-learned language among primary school students.
French, German, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean would come next, the latter three because they are also national priorities, as well as Spanish, considered to be a language of “global importance”.
The third development stage would capture Arabic, Modern Greek and Vietnamese.
The paper states that Asian languages should be a particular focus because of Australia’s geographical position and geopolitical history.
"The most direct means for learning about and engaging with the diverse countries and people within the Asian region is to learn their languages," the paper states.
This is a big push for the status of languages in Queensland classrooms which only saw the return to compulsory teaching of LOTE (Languages Other Than English) in state schools in years 6, 7 and 8 after the subject’s mandatory status was dropped by Education Queensland.
The paper warns "a capability in English only is insufficient and that a bilingual or plurilingual capability has become the norm in most parts of the world".
Studies show time and again that the learning of foreign languages improves general literacy levels in English as well as the development of literacy strategies.
Learning another language extends students’ capability to communicate, develops literacy and increases their engagement as citizens and participants within and across local, regional and global contexts.
Our children develop an understanding, and respect for, diversity and difference, and an openness to different perspectives and experiences.
Being able to speak another language also enhances employment and career prospects.
Languages are being embraced in a number of ways in our society, and this can only further encourage our children to learn.
For example, at my youngest daughter’s childcare centre, there are posters on almost every wall with basic words such as “hello”, “goodbye”, and numbers all written in various languages.
Children in preschool sing songs from other cultures, while also learning about countries of the world, and indigenous Australian culture.
Having travelled abroad, I believe Australia has a lot of catching up to do as most people in other countries speak two, or more, languages.
Our relationships with other cultures would be vastly improved if we could communicate more easily, so I’m supporting the new curriculum.
The draft shape paper is open for consultation until April 7.
Educators, parents, students, and members of the wider community are invited to read the draft paper and provide comment via an online questionnaire.
View the paper or provide feedback visit


Anonymous said...

Shannon I appreciate your opinion on all things child based, however as a Teacher Aide I would like to ask you to consider the priorities of our students. I believe we urgently need to find extra time to teach our children the basics! We are already introducing students to another language in primary school. I believe if they wish to continue on in a language it should be their choice to make in High School. I see many, many students who despise learning another language. What they do not enjoy they generally will not do well at. Why force it when it is not an essential life skill to have. Maths and English are essential to all students and I strongly believe we should be focusing more time on these areas. Learning a second language takes time away, time our kids desperately need to get back to learning the basics.

Shannon said...

Interesting observation... it's certainly good to get a perspective from inside the classroom. But I have read that learning a second language can actually be of great benefit to children learning English literacy. Learning languages is much easier when you are young, than when you are older (so perhaps waiting until a student is in high school is leaving it too late?). Just because children despise learning another language, that's not a good enough reason not to. I despised sport at school (hopelessly unco-ordinated) but I still had to do it. Doesn't it also come down to the teacher? If they deliver their lessons in a way that will interest the children, draw them in, give them something to be passionate about, encourage them to "want" to learn more... then surely this is a life skill that will open up more doors than they imagine. Australia is really lagging behind in this field, so I stand by this change to school curriculums.
I would love to hear more thoughts from teachers and parents.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon I think we need to concentrate on mastering English first. The trouble with education today is that we skirt arround the important issues e.g English, Maths and common sense.

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