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?


tannereg said...

lets get away from the high expectations of TEE level language and focus on language as a practical tool for students - more schools need to offer language for industry or just communication. we cannot continue to try and compete agains electives such as D&T or digital photography. Even with bonuses etc the numbers will not rise significantly. only the very few will actually study langs at uni - most students I see intend continuing langs as part of another degree if they haven't been put off by the irrelevancies of TEE language.


tannereg said...

Hi - well, as I see it and I am only a very new head of languages at a private boys' school we on a loosing streak because we are non-compulsory and are fighting for students along with digital photography, D&T etc but not only that, year 2 exams are written by university professors/lecturers who are a bit "precious" about what they think is a TEE paper! The level these people expect our students to operate at is ludicrous unless you are destined for studying langs at uni of course. Lets make the teaching and learning of languages more practical and industry based and I am sure we will get higher numbers. Many students would take a unit of langs once at uni but don't bother with TEE because they simply cannot get the mark despite our best efforts!


Phil Mahnken said...

I find myself torn on this issue. When I was teaching in schools I resented university people thinking they could dictate via Schools Boards etc what should be done in school language programs with little first hand experience of the lived reality of schools. Mind you, I was always disappointed with the linguistic proficiency levels students attained no matter "how hard I taught", how much fun I injected into the programme, or how rigorous, or what texts and other resources we used. The day of solid guaranteed academic progress passed when languages became optional, schools became comprehensive, and we all liberalised our attitudes ("better they be happy and safe at non-elitist schools than oppressed, fearful and resentful as in olden days/our day"). Since moving to universities, since finding that learners really can make rapid, very satisfying and respectable gains in language proficiency (testable, demonstrable, oral and written) if the approach is sound and they commit themselves, I find myself looking at schools with a sense of hopelessness. [And plenty of school teacher mates agree.] Is it tertiary entrance exams that are the bugbear? I say toss them if they are - but will you put in place some other standard so we can believe in your courses and outcomes? Or is there a decline of standards (in many disciplines, not just languages, at school and at universities)? I don't want to be a grumpy old man nor do I want us to kid ourselves.