Saturday, November 22, 2008

Breeze retires; Connect takes over

I have to apologize. My university operates the old Macromedia Breeze until next week when we move to its upgrade incarnation, Adobe Connect. However Breeze is no longer accessible to everyone who has upgraded to Flash 10 on their computer. (Took me some effort to get an older Flash re-installed on my home computer.) This has led to our two advertised sessions on Process Drama and AIM being delayed. Will advertise a.s.a.p. when we are ready to roll. Enjoy our archives in the meantime. Oh, have a look at MAAYA, the worldnetwork for linguistic diversity at It is still being established but seems like the kind of "people action" we need, not sitting around waiting on government bureaucracies. You may also like to read Prof. Michael Clyne's recent article A linguist's vision for multicultural Australia November 18, 2008. Salut salam shalom Phil

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Erika Piazzoli - Process Drama and L2

Erika Piazzoli has been collecting data while running a 7 week course at Griffith University using the Process Drama methodology with 3rd year L2 Italian students. She will present her results at 7.00 pm Qld time (8.00 AEST) on 12 November and give an online introduction to Process Drama for L2 teachers. Erika writes:

Process Drama is a strand of drama that emerged in the late 1980s and has become recognised as a tool to teach a variety of disciplines including history, art, geography and literature. More recently PD has been used as an approach to L2 teaching, with very promising results (See Kao & O'Neill, 1998, for research findings).

"PD falls under the humanistic teaching umbrella, promoting student's intrinsic learning and activating their own knowledge. It shares the key features of the communicative method, but it takes it a step further by providing a common thread to the role plays we tend to use in L2 teaching and injecting meaning into the scenarios, making them more authentic for the students. Personally, I believe there is great potential for PD in L2 acquisition."

I learned something about the related Experiential Drama in Tasmania years ago and that was wonderful. Teachers interested in the Accelerative Integrated Approach will find this illuminating too. Phil Mahnken

BTW "For those who came in late", there is a brief and swanky online animated tutorial called Attend your first Adobe Connect Pro meeting.

Wendy Maxwell, founder of AIM 22 - 23 Nov

Jen McKinney of Hearsay Learning Downunder [] advises that Wendy Maxwell, the founder of the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM) would be deligted to engage in discussion with Australian languages teachers on 22nd - 23rd November (that's Saturday and Sunday) so a change of time from our usual evening sessions. We must remember the time difference in Canada. Exact time and date to be confirmed soon. This is a great opportunity to speak directly with the person who has made a huge difference in successful learning of French in Canada, a country whose educational culture is quite similar to ours. Stay tuned.

Forthcoming in November - December

IYL Seminar on “Schools of languages”
Saturday and out-of-hours languages schools – unsung heroes
Lia Tedesco Denis Cunningham Michael Clyne Sydney Open High

IYL Seminar on School Principals with School Principals
Line them up against a wall? And teach them languages.
What do school principals think. Log on and listen to a brave bunch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Comments on online live audio-conferencing

These seminars are a great idea! you can participate from the comfort of your own home - in your tracky dacks, sipping a nice red wine..... [Lia] I'll confess to ugg boots... [Andrea]
"I like the idea of holding the meetings via this Breeze system because it's very family friendly and if for whatever reason you can't tune in you can always listen to the archive. Three cheers for technology!" [Angela]

"As I've said before, this kind of technology itself can be part of the
solution for small enrolment classes - come and experience it."[Phil]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I believe but I'm not doing it anymore

IYL Online Seminars continue AT 19:30 AEST on 9 September with three teachers and the topic:

"I absolutely believe in languages teaching but I'm not doing it anymore." Please join us for an Adobe Connect online audio-conference on the problems and constraints that drive away from the profession some of those who love it most. Help us work out how to meet these challenges. Login as Guest at No password needed. You need speakers-and-microphone or headset.
The correct archive address for 9 September seminar is You may notice gaps in the recording later in the session - our Breeze system played up a bit. Apologies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Languages Action Alliance GoogleMap

This map aims to acknowledge all the non-mainstream playgroups, community schools , bilingual schools, Saturday schools, Schools of Languages, adult education organisations and others that work to maintain or teach languages. Email Phil to add your placemarker. Find out more about the Languages Action Alliance and also at Bilingual Families

View Larger Map

Friday, July 18, 2008

Forum: preparing for the Asian century

Forum: preparing for the Asian century broadcast on Radio National program, Life Matters, and presented by Asia Education Foundation

The five year olds starting school this year will be at the peak of their working lives in 2040 when China and India are predicted to become the world's major economies.

So should their education reflect this reality? In this forum recorded at the recent Asia Education Forum in Adelaide, Richard Aedy discusses what new skills and knowledge Australian children will need to succeed. Also, how well prepared are our schools for teaching students the cultural literacy that could help them engage with our region.

Malcolm Norris, Head of Exploration and New Business for Intrepid Mines
Professor Robin Jeffery, Director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at ANU
Kathy Kiting, Principal of Campbell Primary School in the ACT
Andrew Blair, President of the Australian Secondary Principals Assocation

Listen to or download the podcast (mp3) - highly recommended (about 55 minutes). The forum discusses languages education, not only Asian languages.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"A fresh Breeze is blowing...."

Phil Gorbett at I.T. advises that from July 14 "A fresh Breeze is blowing...." at the University of the Sunshine Coast. "Breeze is back up - we had an issue with an errant Microsoft service pack for the database. You should now have access to your meetings and archives." You can find links to all five archives below. I will start work on the ongoing presenter schedule very soon. News of a Languages Alliance

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July break

For three reasons we are having a break in July. It's school holidays for some. Phil is off to Armidale and Sydney. And the server is having a break(down) too. So opportune time to relax, read Roland Sussex's article in the Courier Mail Monolingual Aussies left behind in international business of 28 June 2008. Or contemplate the speakers in the next half of the year including Wendy Maxwell, founder of the Canadian AIM system, Angela Scarino, Denis Cunningham and Lia Tedesco on 'Schools of Languages', and Erika Pazzoli on Process Drama. Erika writes:

Process Drama is a strand of drama that emerged in the late 80s and has become recognised as a tool to teach a variety of disciplines including history, art, geography and literature. More recently PD has been used as an approach to L2 teaching, with very promising results (See Kao & O'Neill, 1998, for research findings).

"PD falls under the humanistic teaching umbrella, promoting student's intrinsic learning and activating their own knowledge. It shares the key features of the communicative method, but it takes it a step further by providing a common thread to the role plays we tend to use in L2 teaching and injecting meaning into the scenarios, making them more authentic for the students. Personally, I believe there is great potential for PD in L2 acquisition."

I learned something about Experiential Drama in Tasmania years ago and that was wonderful. Erika says this is related. We are also collecting names of school principals willing to come discuss the fate of languages education from their point of view and to hear ours. Is yours game?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Impatience in the tone of these articles? Good!

Too few keen to speak in tongues
Language studies in Australia are still struggling to attract students, despite a Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister, writes Jill Rowbotham, June 25, 2008, in The Australian Higher Education section.
"THERE is a lot of talk about language programs in Australia, but the conversation does not appear to be going anywhere. Decades after it began, we remain solidly, some would say stolidly, monolingual." Read article

We are having a break from online seminars until late July so enjoy this article, send us links to others you see, peruse the archive links below and think about who and what would make great and useful seminars for the rest of the year. Our list of speakers, dates and topics should be up here soon.

Here's a video about Education Learning to Change-Changing to Learn you may wish to check out. I am a bit suspicious of this computer-world salesmanship even though I love muoltimedia and web-based languages learning possibilities. Someone mentions people "needing to be multi-disciplinary, multicultural, multilingual" in it. Only five minutes 36 seconds. Please post comments there or here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Matthew Absalom - Primary school languages - our primary failing

Matthew Absalom, lecturer in Italian at the University of Melbourne, has advanced his thoughts on languages education in media articles over the last few years, most recently Languages: our primary failing by Matthew Absalom - 30/05/2008 on See also Stop minding your language April 02, 2008 in the Australian.

On 26 June Matthew Topic will present "a critique on our approach to languages education in primary school, ie any old speaker will do, and anyway all they have to teach is numbers and colours. Primary school languages - our primary failing."

We believe there is the will and the opportunity to vastly improve languages education at all levels. The AFMLTA points out in its recent communication to the Federal Minister that the Commonwealth's current plans seem to focus instead on secondary schools only. Is this giving into those "jurisdictions" whose "insufficient commitment" is identified as a cause of the failure of current endeavours? Primary schooling is in the hands of state governments some of which truly dropped the languages ball during the Howard government's xenophobic and tight-fisted tenure. Come join in democratic debate (not bureaucratic obfuscating) with Matthew Absalom to celebrate the International Year of Languages 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

19 June Online Seminar. Lia Tedesco: Developments on the National Scene

The next IYL Online Seminar will be led by Lia Tedesco "Australian Languages Education: What is happening at national level?"

19.30 AEST 19 June 2008

Lia Tedesco, Principal of the School of Languages in South Australia, President of the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) for the last several years and closely involved with the eight National Projects which aimed to implement the National Strategy and Plan for Languages in Australia. Tune in via Lia is that combination of acutely informed policy administrator, passionate languages teacher and tireless networker. For the latest developments, there is no better source. See Lia Tedesco's recent article Languages education in Australia in 2008 in Curriculum Leadership Volume 6 Issue 18. The archive for Lia's address is at

Sunday, June 1, 2008

11 June Online Seminar: Oj Rugins on the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM)

This IYL Online Seminar will be held at 7.30 pm AEST on 11 June 2008. The first presenter will be Ojar Rugins who teaches French at Eumundi and Cooroy State Primary Schools in Queensland, Australia. Oj will report on his use of the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM) originating in Canada and the reactions of his upper primary school students during the last year. Jen McKinney from Melbourne and Tim Girard from Brisbane will demonstrate some of the famous "gestures" of this method. Jen's enthusiasm about this approach is enough to make us all rush to enrol in her classes. For a two page explanation of this incredibly successful approach, also called the Gesture Method, see the founder's Theoretical Perspective on the Program The Accelerative Integrated Method - A holistic approach to the teaching of French as a second language by Wendy Maxwell. This method is really winning over parents, not just students. Have a quick read. Languages teachers, teacher educators, pre-service teachers, parents, all interested are welcome to logon and practise the Adobe Connect system before the 11 June via

The 11 June AIM archive (Oj Rugins, Jenny McKinney and Tim Girard)

National conference for AIM

There will be a National conference for AIM - The Gesture Approach to learning 2nd Languages held in Melbourne at Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar, on the 4th and 5th September 2008. Teachers from all States, NZ and Singapore are attending. Info courtesy of Jenny McKinney at or
Pour vous qui comprennent le Francais, va a Vous serez convaincus.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The education of languages teachers

Listen to and view the archive of our latest audio-conference on 14 May when Lesley Harbon of Sydney University presented "Over-enthused and under-prepared: pre-service languages teachers in the spotlight." Lively discussion followed. [Give the archive a full minute to load.] This is the future of the languages teaching profession at stake. In 1996 an investigation into 'Languages Other than English teacher supply and quality' produced a report for the Federal government entitled "Language teachers: The Pivot of Policy" (available as pdf). Sound analysis; sound recommendations. Then we went into the decade of decline. Now a brand new “Review of Teacher Education for Languages Teachers” has been handed to government (available as pdf - link at bottom of page). Is this the same old policy cycle, or is there hope of real action and results in languages teaching and learning?

Languages at school

Languages at school
special feature articles for May at

Languages: our primary failing
by Matthew Absalom - 30/05/2008 - 12 comments
Languages and music: natural partners in education
by Stephen Crabbe - 29/05/2008
Multilingualism and multiculturalism
by Karen Woodman - 28/05/2008 - 8 comments
Squandered worlds
by Nicholas Ostler - 23/05/2008 - 20 comments
Repairing languages education
by Phillip Mahnken - 16/05/2008 - 27 comments
Languages at school
by Jane Orton - 15/05/2008 - 4 comments
Reversing the trend
by Peter Jones - 13/05/2008
Ignorant of the fact of being ignorant
by Paul Doolan - 12/05/2008 - 39 comments
What’s the point of teaching languages?
by Brian Manning - 12/05/2008 - 18 comments
Tapping the reservoir: languages at school
by Joe Lo Bianco - 9/05/2008 - 8 comments
A universal language
by Henriette Vanechop - 8/05/2008 - 15 comments
A world of understanding
by Claudia Mainard - 7/05/2008 - 28 comments
Language learning
by Penny Vos - 6/05/2008 - 17 comments

Click image to view at larger size

UQ Public Lecture and Round Table on Languages

University of Queensland
- URL of recording coming soon (supposedly). Joe Lo Bianco again presented the important facts and issues in his relaxed and authoritative manner.

2008 has been declared the International Year of Languages by the United Nations with the aim of fostering and celebrating linguistic diversity around the world while at the same time warning about the risks of monolingualism and the rapid disappearance of minority languages. In addition, 21 May has been declared the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

The School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies invites the University community to join its staff, students and associates in a celebration of language diversity in the context of UQ Diversity Week, 12-16 May.

A half-day symposium will be held on Tuesday, 13 May with the aims of celebrating the linguistic diversity of the UQ community, raising awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity, and promoting the role of the University in contributing to social cohesion and community understanding of language matters, the importance of foreign language literacy, the role of indigenous and minority languages and the key role of languages in the globalised economy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Archive of Joe Lo Bianco online seminar

The Adobe Connect (sound and visuals) archive of the first IYL Online Seminar of 16 April is available at Give it a minute to establish. Thanks again to all concerned, especially Joe Lo Bianco for his clarity, his connection to both theory and the real world of classrooms and society,and his unstinting optimism.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

IYL event at University of Queensland

13 May, Year of Languages at the University of Queensland

1.00 pm PUBLIC LECTURE "Are we entitled to be optimistic about language education in Australia?" Professor Joseph Lo Bianco
2.00 pm Refreshments
2.30 pm Round Table "The present and the future of languages and language education in Australia" Moderator: Professor Roland Sussex

This event is open to all –
RSVP required for catering purposes. See online flyer (pdf)

Assoc. Prof. Alfredo Martinez-Expósito Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Head of School, School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies
The University of Queensland Brisbane Queensland 4072 Australia

UQ is also running a series of lunchtime foreign language movies to get in the spirit of IYL

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Australia 2020 Summit - Languages

Download the Australia 2020 Summit - Initial Report. Languages teaching (especially Asian languages) gets a strong endorsement. The whole thing is such a whiff of fresh air in this country which had looked so retro (1950's racist attitudes) for so long. Even the anxieties prompt me to feel there is determination to use the mandate and the public mood to get things done about education and the environment. (That logo though - does it look like a bunch of clothes pegs?)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hamish McDonald Asia-Pacific Editor at SMH has his say

A thought provoking article sent by Greg Poulgrain 04/20/08

The Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Regional thinking: a number of ways to put Australia back in its
by Hamish McDonald Asia-Pacific Editor

STRANGELY, my name seems to have been left off the list of Kevin
Rudd's invitees to the 2020 Summit in Canberra this weekend. But
in case the invite isn't delivered by hand overnight, here is my
list of recommendations for growing Australia's position in its
own region.

*Let's have a concerted effort at reversing the collapse of
Asian language study in Australia, and tackle it at popular and
elite levels. Starting languages at high school or university is
doomed to failure in most cases - the younger children start,
the better. Every primary school student should have the chance.

The language that is strategically useful, most likely to be
usable on cheap nearby holidays, and relatively easy to grasp in
its basics (it has simple pronunciation and structure, and a
phonetic script using the Roman alphabet) is Indonesian.

We don't have enough trained teachers of Indonesian to reach
everyone, especially in primary schools. How about an ambitious
teacher exchange scheme? Indonesian teachers could spend a
couple of years in our schools, teaching Indonesian and
improving their English, and our teachers do the reverse.

The rapid progress that can be made with Indonesian would attune
more of our students to the idea that foreign languages aren't
impossible. More of them might then go on to study the more
difficult ones, such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi/Urdu
and Persian - if available in our senior schools and HSC marks
don't penalise non-native speakers for tackling them instead of
the softer options.

Read the rest at SMH.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Joe Lo Bianco to open online IYL seminar series

Jo Lo Bianco, the doyen of language policy and planning in Australia, the man who authored the National Language Policy of 1987 and who has worked tirelessly for languages all his career has agreed to open our online seminar series to celebrate IYL on 16 April 2008 at 19.30 Australian Eastern Standard time.

We can only host forty log-ons at a time on my university's Adobe Connect system and let's face it, even with that many not everyone can have a say. All sessions will be recorded and available on archive. Please email if you are interested in participating.

If you are interested in offering a presentation (I recommend maximum 30 minutes for the address and 30 minutes for interaction/discussion, use the same email, tell me your proposed topic, send me your favourite portrait photo, and have a peek at to learn how to use the system. Enter as a guest and you will find I often have it set to grant all comers presenter status so you can mess around a bit. You need a headset (preferably) but speakers and microphone will do. Just speakers if you only intend to listen in. You can always use the text chat box to pose questions. Webcam is optional, only adds to bandwidth demand without great gain. Online conferencing will be a massive channel for foreign language learning in this century so it doesn't hurt to learn about it now.

Jo Lo Bianco wrote a forthright article in the Age newspaper on 26 March, A language is a window to another world. It says much more than the title indicates to me. See Joe's profile page at the University of Melbourne.


Sunday, April 13, 2008


I noticed this page, 5 Great Reasons to Learn a Language! [LanguageWorld - 29 February 2008] on my web wanderings and it brought back to mind that conundrum that learning another language undeniably takes commitment and persistence but for many English-spaking students it is inherently boring, hard, not as motivating as sports, media attractions, socialising in their first language, even other school subjects!

It takes motivation to begin a foreign language and motivation to stay with it. Teachers can work hard to make the class experience pleasurable and satisfying, reassure students of the rewards and promote languages to the school community and through the media but ... our retention rates show we fail (with notable exceptions.

I think we need one of the Online Seminars during IYL to be about motivation of Australian students in languages study. Who has ideas? Does anyone among us have some sure-fire methods for motivating? Different for different levels and different children? Or, in a country averse to languages study, are compulsion at school, extra points for uni entry and overseas study scholarships the way to go? Contact me if you would like to speak in a motivation forum.

P.S. A senior academic at my uni said he would not like to see compulsion for any field of study; he does not believe in "re-education camps". Let the market decide; do a good job of selling your subject. I tended to agree with this democratic sentiment at the time but since I have thought, e-duc-ation itself means leadership. It means the current adult generation make their best informed decision about what the rising generation need to learn. And surely there are many many things we want children to learn, and insist they do for their own sake: from crossing the street safely to reading and writing and respectful relations with others. If languages are vital to our society's future, why are we so frightened of making languages study mandatory? Or at least, so thoroughly supported and rewarded, it amounts to society-wide endorsement? Why won't we do this?

webcasting, realtime voice interactions

webcasting, realtime voice interactions - one page primer on giving online presentations and lessons. To the point. I got there from the wonderful LearningTimes Australia site

EXLORING THE USE OF VOICE ONLINE a selection of resources collated for Yahoo Voice Conference on 'Hearing Every Voice'

Friday, April 11, 2008

Languages at school - a public forum

On Line Opinion - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

May Feature - Languages at school

What's the point of language teaching? Is it just economic, or are the biggest benefits intrinsic? What languages should be taught, how should we determine priorities? And what about "dead" and invented languages like Latin and Esperanto?

Email your contributions to Susan Prior

An excellent opportunity for those who care about languages to contribute to public debate.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

  • All Chinese to us [ABC Radio National The National Interest recording - 2nd item]
    Australia has its first Mandarin-speaking prime minister - it's hardly surprising, therefore, that the new government wants to boost the number of students with a foreign language. But have we missed the boat? Is Australia now so far behind that our exporters are already facing a skills bottleneck? Can we crack the Chinese market if we don't have enough Australian sinophones ready to hit the ground running? If the debate's sounding familiar, it could be because our language crisis was first highlighted almost 20 years ago. What can be done? How do we fire up linguistic excitement in potential students?
  • Friday, March 28, 2008

    Voices Of The World

    Voices Of The World - television documentary on SBS Television in Australia
    7.30 pm 4 April 2008

    How many languages are there in the world? There could be as many as 10,000 languages or as few as 4,000 languages. Whatever the number, half of those languages are likely to disappear within the next hundred years. Filmed across the globe in countries as diverse as Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Denmark, Egypt, Greenland, Iran, Mozambique, Nepal, Spain and Vietnam, Voices of the World offers a profound vision of a world where languages and cultures are disappearing. Every time a language is lost, one vision of the world disappears. Languages encode and encapsulate the culture of a people and this includes their music, their poetry, their songs and their stories. Language defines who we are. When a language disappears humanity itself is diminished. (From Denmark, in English, Danish, Arabic, and Mlabri, English subtitles) (Documentary) PG CC

    Some interesting history of the Voices of the World Project can be found at and taught me that it is an initiative of UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Languages Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, based on an original idea by Janus Billeskov Jansen. She was 4th president of Iceland, and a tireless worker for education, human rights and women's rights. H. E. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir gave an address for the first International Mother Language Day celebration in 2006. Mrs Finnbogadóttir qualified languages as “humanity’s most precious and fragile treasures.”

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Another interesting support site for the 2008 IYL
    This site has a multitude of links to IYL information.

    Don Osborn also alerted me to the Australian portal set up by our friends at ACSSO

    and the Facebook Group
    which is aiming for 10 000 members during the year (1500 when I joined on 27 March 2008)

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Articles on Languages in the media

    Four articles in the Australian media about Languages. Something's brewing.

    Primary school pupils 'need extra language' by Lucy Hood, February 25, 2008 Adelaide Advertiser
    Minding our language by John Töns - 12 March 2008 on National Online Opinion Forum
    Big Neighbour Fading From Our Radar by David T. Hill The Australian 12 March 2008
    Language skills push for schools by Farrah Tomazin The Age 24 March 2008
    'Lost in translation' means same in any language The Age 25 March 2008
    'Stop Minding Your Language Matthew Absolom in The Australian 2 April 2008
    All Chinese to us [Radio National The National Interest recording - second item] ... our language crisis was first highlighted almost 20 years ago. What can be done? How do we fire up linguistic excitement in potential students?
    Learning a language is not just words Matthew Davies April 28, 2008 The Age newspaper
    Let's send a message to the world … in their languages, John Hajek and Yvette Slaughter, The Age, May 5, 2008
    Learning languages in Australia - too much like hard work? by Fiona Mueller. A 2003 article that has lost none of its relevance.

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Match language skills to booming markets

    Match language skills to booming markets [pdf]

    English is not enough for students in this multilingual environment, writes Professor David Hill of the Asia Reseach Centre, Murdoch University

    The UN Year of Languages is featured in this article from 11 Feb. 2008 along with many other cogent arguments for reversing the decline in languages education.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    The Lazy Prisoner

    Plato worried that writing would make people lazy. They would not rely on their memory to rally cogent argument and participate in quality rhetoric. He was right.

    Every time my eyes fall on any piece of text, I am attracted to read it. Bill boards, car stickers, road signs, advertising on trucks and overpasses, book covers, T-shirts, my grocery docket, whatever. Brought up in a literate society, addicted to reading, this means my mind is occupied for some life time on the messages the writers of those signs want me to attend to. Isn't this mind control?

    Commercial television advertisements come at you in every mode: moving visuals, shouting spruikers, the message also rammed home by key words in bold colour print that leap out at us. If nothing else, they want that jingle and that brand name fixed in my mind. They want some more of my life time as well. They want me to walk into their shop, choose among their goods, get out that credit card and buy. I take pride in being a resister.

    Language is the medium in which we live much of our lives. It is almost the DNA of the “cultured” human mind. Our first language becomes the map on which we record, categorise and manipulate our perceptions of reality and our thinking. As we acquire our language, so we give up the flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity we were born with. Wittgenstein famously declared that the limits of our language are the limits of our thinking. Our first language and our first culture are our mental home and also our prison. We feel comfortable in there. It is so well fused in my brain, I can get messages and send messages with ease. The laziest person in the world can.

    This is why it is incredibly important – if we really believe in freedom, that much abused word – that we liberate ourselves from the parochialism that our first language/culture instills. Every language in the world comes with its inbuilt biases about what is normal, acceptable, natural and what is not. Human beings get their sense of belonging and security from being tribal. What my tribe eats, says, believes, the way it brings up its kids, worships, dances, produces and trades goods and services, all this is my culture and all this gets into my head as I grow up as “normal”, even though there is phenomenal variety inside every culture.

    Diversity is a fact of nature. It is perhaps a principle of life: diversity means a better chance of survival. Human societies, however, often convince themselves that uniformity and conformity are the best option for survival. This nearly always benefits those with power at the top. They maintain considerable freedom. Everyone else should behave as dictated.

    Perhaps if your tribe is being attacked by another, and survival is on the line, military discipline is essential. No time for debate or regard for individual opinion or freedom (which may be why some powerful people seem to love war.) At any other time, a culture and society that exists “for the people” should encourage diversity of opinion, behaviour, worship. Innovation and invention arise from experimentation. They do not arise from perpetual maintenance of the existing order. Happiness arises from both belonging and the freedom to express and act on one’s particular intentions.

    It is clear that language is a massively powerful form of control because it sits at the very seat of human consciousness. The conscious mind is – as said above – made up in large part of our language (but also of emotions, moods, outside physical influences and internal ones such as hormones and hereditary neuronal dispositions). If I am told from the time I am born that there is one universal God, I will believe that. In a polytheistic culture, my mind and my thoughts and my words will be shaped by that culture of beliefs, songs, poems, rituals, stories, conversations, sayings and metaphors. Whatever society we are born into, that culture will no doubt have many supportive and beautiful aspects and almost always structures of power, belief and language that constrain or outright oppress the unfortunate.

    How can one be conscious of oppression, lack of freedom, or possibilities, if one’s value system or one’s very vocabulary does not contain words like “individual” or “aspiration” or “democracy”, sexism, or equivalents? We may think this applies only to traditional or backward-looking societies. That very thought shows our imprisonment. How can Westerners liberate themselves from the disastrous mistakes of colonialism, industrialization and consumer capitalism which threaten the planet if the minds of their citizens are so forcefully moulded and daily reinforced to believe that their civilization is superior and always right and destined to prevail?[1]

    The flip side of languages is that they are infinitely flexible. They were made and re-made and are re-fashioned on a daily basis to mediate the infinite experience of human beings and perhaps the almost infinite creativity of human minds. Language bore the thoughts of gloomy old Wittgenstein. It mediated the genius of Einstein. It mediates the furious scream of the unhappy infant, the last words of the dying, the prayers of billions of people giving thanks or asking for consolation or expressing resignation. Language expresses the mystic musing of Emily Dickinson and the bawdy mysticism of Omar Khayyam.

    Language may be a prison but we can climb out of prisons, we can tear them down and rebuild other things with those materials in their stead. We may even come to recognize that the bars are made of rubber, or bamboo, or thin air. Buddhists seek awareness of reality beyond words through a long apprenticeship in meditation.

    We can all recognize that the screaming television advertisement, the weasel politician, the boring teacher, the badgering spouse, the comedian, the signboard and the computer screen, all are trying to communicate – which, in many senses, is trying to control. They are trying to plant messages in our minds. [2] They try to have us think as they think, or at least about what they think.

    There is one method to escape the prison of our native language. Learn another. It is such as simple escape route that many people cannot consider it. It’s like saying to a lifer in prison: “There’s the gate. Walk out through it.” If he has been inside his hated cell, the dining hall and the exercise yard so long, he will actually fear that open gate. Because beyond lies frightening freedom and the requirement to process so much unaccustomed new experience, and deal with consequences for decisions and fend for himself.

    Learning a foreign language – even in a structured and safe manner – starts to make us see that our native language and way of expressing, seeing and being are not the only ones. [3] In fact, there are beauty and genius in other languages, their songs, their poems, their novels and their daily sayings and thoughts and funny ways. There will be things (and people) that repel and things that delight, as in our own culture. And, at some stage, early or late, you will find yourself looking back at your first language and culture and thinking: “That’s stupid.” And, “That’s beautiful.”

    You could think critical thoughts of your own language/culture by watching a provocative film, reading a great novel or history book in your first language. Or studying sociology or anthropology at university. Must we learn another language to be liberated from parochialism?

    YES. How can we claim to look truly at our own culture and lives and language unless in some way we stand outside them. We need points of comparison. It’s like a married couple who influence each other over some years and only later look back on the person they were and the family they grew out of. Despite lingering loyalties, nostalgia and love, we will acknowledge that all was not perfect in the family we grew up in (nor the one we have created). Life experience means we change: all experience, painful and pleasurable, makes us who we are.

    Deep language experience means we change in the seat of consciousness. Or we can. Not all do. Some learn another language as they learn to use a set of tools. They get a job done with it and stay – doggedly, comfortably perhaps – their old selves. At least they have the opportunity.

    Pity the poor person who will not allow themselves to walk out the prison gate. In many parts of the world, infants are walking in and out of many gates and language worlds on a daily basis, even inside the family. Most Indonesians, even the least educated in the formal sense, speak at least one local language, more if they have mixed parentage or live on a border zone between language groups, and the national language. And English if they can afford the lessons. As is the case in many countries. This is a power that all human beings have: to learn a first language (complex, marvelous, useful, established, ever evolving), and then another, and another. This ability brings great power of understanding. It is something democratically bestowed by our birth as human beings.

    The most affluent English speaking countries in the world have the worst record at learning other languages. We like our comfy mental, linguistic and cultural padded cells. We have open gates in front of our eyes and most of us cannot be bothered to walk through. Too much like hard work. Why bother when everyone seems to be walking this-a-way? They can learn all about us. We do not need to exert ourselves to learn about them.

    What does that tell us about ourselves? What would Plato think?

    These comments from a former student.
    [1] Citizens of modern democracies in the 21st century all have the ability – if not always the upbringing – to do as Robert Kennedy claimed: "I look at things that are and I ask why? I look at things that never were and ask why not?" (Learning From Einstein's Creativity By Ron White;read=460 )

    [2] I recognise as a teacher that this is what I do, but not what I want to do. You have to be pretty diligent to remain unbiased in order not to push your philosophies onto the students, especially when some of them are important to you. Is this morally legitimate? How can we encourage free thought in other ways besides second language instruction?

    [3] Is it just the language or its link with a foreign culture, a different way of life? Indeed, can one be learnt without the other? How much of a view do you have if you stay within the comfort of your usual surrounds? How much is learnt out of the comfort zone, learning to survive under different circumstances, understanding what it is like on the receiving end, to be different? How do we learn to empathise and understand another point of view? Are we generalizing??

    See an inspiring page on the experience of language learning written by this writer in 2006. "Completely new worlds" 8 October 2006 Maybe good to share with students if you are a language teacher?

    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    IYL on Wikipedia

    I had a look at Wikipedia's entry for International Year of Languages. Not a lot as yet. One link was to the World Network for Linguistic Diversity. It's humbling to see that they divide the world up into Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, North America and then they go on to International Days. Australia does not "get a guernsey". We usually console ourselves that if international publications list "Asia and the Pacific", well of course that includes us! I'm used to being left off the map coming from Tasmania but it is a healthy reminder to Australians that many of the hubs of world power and influence - even the UN and Wikipedia!!! - does rate us worth a mention. I wonder if we should therefore (a) get the sulks (b) give praise and hope they just buy our minerals and leave our old growth forests alone or (c) actually make a huge effort to reach out to the rest of the world.

    I should report that we get a prominent note under Regional events and activities. 15-16 May 2008: Open Road Conference - Multilingualism and the Information Society, Melbourne, Australia. But that's it. Nothing else goin' on?

    Actually, Francesco Ricatti at USC found this going on. "Perhaps you can find of some interest the magazine of USyd's school of languages and cultures. In this number for instance there are interesting articles about China and Indonesia, plus a comment on 2008 Unesco year of languages. There's also
  • a cluster of language and linguistics conferences in Sydney in July
  • the ACSSO online languages newsletter, Volume Two Number Three: 13 March 2008 in celebration of the International Year of
    Languages 2008 (their whole ongoing website LANGUAGES EDUCATION IN AUSTRALIA is all the more welcome in that this comes from the national parent body);
  • Leslie Harbon, President Elect of the Australian Federation of Modern Languages Teachers Associations sent round a NEWS IN BRIEF with a great round-up of the Eight National Strategic Projects, the key elements in the implementation of the National Statement and Plan for Language Education, all progressing towards completion.

    The funding, implementation and hopefully real world effects of those projects are themselves a celebration of languages but not the public-attention-getting sort of celebration I think the UN had in mind.
    This is more than just festivity and advertising: the attitudes of the public influence the motivation of every student to learn languages, or not. The attitudes of the public also make politicians sit up and listen. Sometimes truly public-minded politicians are brave enough to lead (e-duc-ate) public opinion, not just manipulate for short-term benefit.
    Please post here on this blog if you know of good International Year of Languages (IYL) events.
  • Sunday, March 9, 2008

    A Bit of Nonsense

    “I said it in Hebrew—I said it in Dutch—
    I said it in German and Greek:
    But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
    That English is what you speak!”

    The Hunting of the Snark
    An Agony in Eight Fits
    Lewis Carroll

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    There are millions of people, whose profession or personal commitment leads them to work hard to teach, learn, care about, use and preserve languages. There are also serious conflicts over languages, even tragedies on small and large scale, and petty Pint sized tempests. There are individuals like Irishman Colm teaching in Estonia with his passionate dedication to preservation of Irish Gaelic. There are professors like David Little at Trinity College Dublin helping language teachers towards truly effective language teaching methods. There are untold millions of teachers in schools around the world who attempt to encourage, enthuse and cajole their students in the enterprise of learning a second language in a formal school setting. Often they succeed and too often we fail. There are untold numbers of policy makers, interest groups, bureaucrats and citizens who want to influence governments to do something about disappointing language study outcomes. There are parents like Prof. Michael Clyne in Australia who gave his daughter the gift of German as a "father tongue" while her mother gave her English as a mother tongue (see Lingua Franca 16 Feb 2008 - Mother tongue, father tongue).

    The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of Languages. UNESCO is trying to promote the idea that "Languages Matter" with your help. Why? How?

    • You can write a letter to the newspapers putting your particular angle, proposal or success story about languages. A joke, a human interest story, an image might help it get published. Send a copy to every politician you can think of (email if you like), those on side like Australian PM Rudd and those not on side. Set up your own blog, website, wiki, e-group celebrating language champions (Aussie list coming soon and more writing ideas soon.)
    • Organise or join a celebration event, series of talks, performances or debate, competition for best story or art work in your community, local school, library, association, club or organisation. More public event ideas and links soon - with your help!.
    • A group of concerned Australian educators is organising a series of online audio-seminars for April to December 2008. A schedule will appear here soon. The venue will be a University of the Sunshine Coast Adobe Connect Meeting Room and all seminars wil be archived.

    Some links can be found at our Sunshine Coast Languages Newsletter. Your feedback is welcome. Salut salam shalom!