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Language education in Australia

28 Apr

In Europe “Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school… English is the language taught most often at lower secondary level in the EU. 93% of children there learn English. At upper secondary level, English is even more widely taught. French is taught at lower secondary level in all EU countries except Slovenia. A total of 33% of European Union pupils learn French at this level. At upper secondary level the figure drops slightly to 28%. German is taught in nearly all EU countries. A total of 13% of pupils in the European Union learn German in lower secondary education, and 20% learn it at an upper secondary level.” In China the study of foreign languages in schools, especially English, has been growing apace. It is estimated that 33% of Beijing residents will have reasonable English skills by the time the Olympics come around in 2008. See also Is English invading Chinese culture? (People’s Daily November 02, 2003.)

…Chinese children nowadays have started to learn English from the third grade in primary school, the time when they still know little about their mother language. And they’ll keep learning English during the whole period of schooling and their English standard may even influence their jobs, promotion as well their lives in the future. From primary school to graduate school, English is always the must-be-tested subject. After graduation, English will also be required for employment, promotion and professional evaluations…

Professor Gu Haibing from the National Economic Management Department of Remin University of China said that for most people who had finished nine-year compulsory education, it is impossible or unnecessary to be excellent in all the subjects, given the current circumstances that professions are all meticulous divided. We suppose the study cost (time) on basic subjects are the same, if a person spends more time on English and his time on other subjects will be less. The result is that the person masters neither English nor other subjects. It will inevitably reduce the efficiency of learning.

Measurement of talent?

Currently, no matter at school or in companies, English seems to have become the top priority to judge one’s talent.

According to Professor Gu, the measurement of a talent should not be based on any man-made standard. However, at present, people who cannot speak English are considered as second-class talents; people who cannot write in English are third-class talents; and those who know nothing about English are not talents at all. People who know neither English nor computer are simply blockheads. A look at Chinese school education shows that English is the only compulsory curriculum during the 20-year-long schooling from primary school through to graduate school…

Some odd bits of tranlatorese there though…

Some mutter darkly about this.

Linguistic imperialism is a struggle for power (Tollefson 1995). Linguistic imperialism is an insidious weapon for the use by one country to interfere with the internal affairs of another country. Language planning must not only consider the affirmative needs of the particular society but must also have a defensive element to protect against linguistic imperialism perpetrated by another society. Yes, EFL is a modern day Trojan horse filled with EFL teachers/soldiers or missionaries, armed with English words rather than bullets, intent upon re-colonizing the world to remake it in the image of Western democracy. China has brought the Trojan Horse within its gates and the army of EFL teachers is hard at work Westernizing China.

While it might be argued that the status of English as an international language justifies all these efforts in Europe and China, what of the blessed English-speaking countries? Should we bother to learn another language?

The answer clearly is “yes” for all sorts of reasons, one being, in my view, that knowing something of another language adds a whole new dimension to your understanding of your own language. Beyond that there are all manner of personal and cultural benefits in looking beyond the circumscribed boundaries of your mother tongue.

But in Australia foreign language study is not prospering. See A long-term relationship requires ability to speak in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

…Alarm bells rang in 2005, when the Asian Studies Association of Australia observed that student enrolments in university Indonesian courses had dropped to 1800, a decline of 15 per cent since 2001.

The two notable exceptions were students from the Australian Federal Police, which at that time had more than 50 officers proficient in Indonesian, while at Canberra’s Australian Defence Forces Academy, enrolments jumped from 140 in 2001 to 200 in 2004.

Yet the alarm went unheeded and the scandalous decline has been allowed to continue. Preliminary figures for 2005 suggest enrolments in Indonesian fell by more than 20 per cent to about 1400.

That federal education authorities cannot provide more up-to-date figures perhaps illustrates a lack of concern in the Howard Government, which has allowed this national resource to run down so badly.

The position in schools is more stable, but after hitting a peak in 2001, the number of students taking Indonesian at HSC level has been falling.

Even at its best, Indonesian was taken by only 1.2 per cent of HSC candidates. Our interest in foreign languages is lamentable generally, with only 14 per cent of candidates studying one to HSC level. But surely some familiarity with Indonesian/Malay should be part of everyone’s education, as “schoolboy French” used to be?

… A veteran scholar of Indonesian politics, Jamie Mackie, notes Australian surfers have penetrated the farthest regions of Indonesia, and are sometimes the first on the scene when something big happens.

Foreign relations isn’t always about diplomats, soldiers, police, academics or journalists, but about ordinary citizens, too. We should equip many more of them for a dialogue.

In NSW in Years 11 and 12 students take 10-12 units of study, usually in pairs. Two units at least go to English. That leaves a minimum of eight. Take out at least two for Maths and that leaves six. It doesn’t take long before language study is squeezed out completely.

** You may like to check today’s English and ESL entry: Excellent series on Islam in Australia.

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Posted by on April 28, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, Education, immigration, Multiculturalism and diversity

 

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