Bid to boost language learning in NSW

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

In Australia, very few school students graduate with competence in a second language under their belt.



The New South Wales government has proposed changes to language learning, hoping to encourage more students to learn languages in their final year of school.


Under consideration is the thriving community language classes, and whether students who attend should have their work recognised.


Christine Heard reports.


(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)


In New South Wales, just 10 per cent of Year 12 students study a language.


That’s higher than the national average, but still a far cry from the 40 per cent target set by the Prime Minister.


The New South Wales Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, says the proposed changes aim to make languages more attractive.


“It’s good for students to speak a second language. It’s good for them academically, it’s good for their job prospects and it’s good socially and culturally for Australians generally to understand and speak more than one language.”


The proposals include increasing the number of language teachers by upskilling those who speak another language, but need additional skills to teach it.


Also, moving the mandatory 100 hours of language learning from year 9 to year 7, so that any skills learnt in primary school aren’t lost in the transition to high school.


And taking into account the work done by students who take language classes outside of school.


Chief Executive of the New South Wales Board of Studies, Carol Taylor, says students who take weekend language classes should receive recognition.


“Looking at some ways of assessing and – through a rigorous assessment – being able to give them some sort of credit. There’s a very vibrant community languages system out there as well as a very rigorous board-developed set of languages curriculum in our schools. Let’s try to get both.”


Chihiro Thomson is a Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of New South Wales.


She applauds the propsals, but says they don’t go far enough.


“In terms of language teaching, Victoria is ahead of New South Wales in many aspects and we can learn many things from Victoria.”


Professor Thomson cites the Victorian system of awarding bonus points to all Year 12 language students, topping up their university entrance scores, as one example.


She also says more work is needed in educating parents about the types of jobs their children could get if they spoke more than one language.


“You don’t know what’s going to happen if you learn a language. Not like you learn law and you become a lawyer. And if that is known to everybody, parents especially, that would be very motivating I think.”


As for Indigenous languages, the NSW curriculum will be extended to allow study at Year 12 level.


Kelli Cato from the New South Wales Board of Studies says she hopes this wilil encourage more Indigeous people to perfect their traditional language, and perhaps even go on to teach it in the future.


“There is a real shortage of teachers of Aboriginal languages and people who are doing work in the reclamation and the revitalisation of Aboriginal languages. So we really see this as an opportunity for students to continue their study and then you know we would love to see them go on and become teachers themselves. So really it is about maintaining the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Aboriginal languages and communities that we have in New South Wales.”