Friday, May 28, 2010

A nation adrift in Asia literacy

To those who care about languages education and Asia literacy in Australia (or who ought to - yes, you!)

Interesting cross-section of opinions among commentators on Greg Sheridan's A nation adrift in Asia literacy Some talk about the difficulty of character based Asian langages. "It's all too much like hard work." "To expect this of the average Australian student is unrealistic." Yet most Europeans successfully learn languages with very complex grammars. I had a brilliant German girl in first year Indonesian (!) tell me the other day I move them along faster than would be the case in Germany BUT she said they do endless exercises and they have years and years of school languages behind them. We might do better selling languages study as "highly demanding" and so respected, shows persistence and brains (as Japanese in Hobart used to be able to afford to do). Phil M.
See Greg Sheridan, A nation adrift in Asia literacy w reader comments
Chinamat of Melbourne Posted at 2:01 PM May 27, 2010 Comment 15 of 21

The industry in which I worked was decimated in the financial crisis. Considering joint-ventures with China critical to reviving that industry in Australia, I decided to turn disaster to opportunity and packed myself off to university at the age of 38. Despite an extensive CV, I couldn't get an offer at any good university for a place to study Chinese. I wrote to Julia Gillard to raise the issue with no result. I have to say my experience of the pointy end of trying to get re-trained with an Asia focus sees very little real support. I'm presently paying full-fee. To add perspective I can also tell you Chinese is the most difficult thing I've had to do in my life and I have a substantially higher work ethic than the typical school-leaver student. There lies the difficulty. The study of a language is extremely difficult but there's no additional consideration for it beyond perhaps an extra hour of tuition a week. Addressing this requires more fundamental reform than the recurring 'programs'. It needs more time to teach all the way from primary level, more credit in courses and a higher academic profile. The Asia Education Foundation is doing their bit but it's barely a start...

Go, Chinamat. Allez, all who care about languages education and Asia literacy in Australia.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Speaking is what it's all about (Irish polyglot) - or is it (Peter Morgan)?

"Why studying a language will never help you speak a language." The whole blog of Irish Polyglot is provocative, challenging, entertaining and hopefully encouraging for languages teachers. I have always thought that if you can speak a language, it means you must deploy, not just have stored in your brain, a whole network of knowledge - many kinds of knowledge. He reminds us that we actually develop that network in interaction and communication with people, not merely in rote learning [the indispensable] words and rules and conventions. Compare his thoughts to mine on grammar below and to a newspaper article about Prof. Peter Morgan's assertion that teaching "just the basics of language acquisition" is not so important to universities as applying language in "a broad engagement with real questions of culture and language". Language Departments risk losing their essence by Bernard Lane in The Australian, March 24, 2010. "This is all part of penetrating, understanding deeply the mind, the culture, the history of whatever language it is."

Morgan is talking about levels of language beyond the old fluency versus accuracy debate: he would assume both are developed in schools and language institutes. And yet when schools go for the intercultural awareness more than linguistic proficiency, too few arrive at university with any decent proficiency (either conversational ability or sound grammatical and literature proficiency. Many are not teaching even "the basics of language acquisition".)

So, school language programs are vitally important and need to produce palpable language learning results that the learners and teachers [and later tertiary lecturers] can all find satisfactory and enabling of communication at all sorts of levels. How do we achieve this in current Australian educational culture when so few even wish to continue any language study beyond a compulsory taste? Would the Irish Polyglot's truly communicative approach have any value or chance in schools?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Some suggestions for future online seminar topics

  • Why do we overlook Esperanto, the perfect apprenticeship language [which every primary school school teacher and child could be using after 100 hours]? Penelope Vos and friends to be invited to present and lead discussion. Some websites from Penelope Vos's Book Talking to the Whole Wide World: The Language Prism:
  • Can't live with 'em, can't get far without 'em - are the education systems, bureaucracies and universities more of a hindrance than a help to languages education?
  • Fourth largest population in the world, right next door to Australia, yet Indonesian teaching/learning languishes despite 50 years of huge effort. The Asia literacy argument does not bite deep while old prestige European languages are having a resurgence, surtout le Francais. Pourquoi? Kok bisa begitu? Why is it so?
  • There is much to celebrate about languages education in Australia: many successful immersion programs, in-country programs and trips, endless experiments with new ICTs, lots of children experiencing - if not always advanced proficiency - broadening of linguistic and cultural awareness and skills, dedicated policy makers, researchers, thinkers, advocates, curriculum writers, teachers, professional associations and parent organisationswho refuse to give up; about 12% of year 12s across the nation studying a language. Are overly high expectations what keep us constantly depressed about languages? Should we be realistic in our Australian context: be content with a cup 12% full?

Looking for presenters and discussion leaders. And your ideas for other seminars.