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Australia is one of the most linguistically diverse nations in the world but that doesn’t mean more of us are speaking languages other than English. An Australian Literary Review paper found language learning is dropping. In the 1960s 40 per cent of Year 12 students studied a second language compared to 12 per cent in 2007. SBS and Community Languages Australia have created a competition to encourage more young Australians to learn another language.
By
Amy Chien -Yu Wang

13 Jun 2016 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 5 Jul 2016 - 1:30 PM

The ABS says nearly one in five Australians speaking a language other than English at home. Australia is among the world’s most multicultural and multilingual nations - one in four of us were born overseas and we speak over 350 languages in homes and workplaces. Many parents encourage their children to learn the language of their homeland while living in Australia.

 

Community Languages Australia, or CLA, is a body representing over 1000 language schools

Aside from the government school system, there are community language schools all across Australia. Community Languages Australia, or CLA, is a body representing over 1000 language schools. CLA brings together after-hour language programs nationally, with 69 languages offered from prep through to Year 10 and 42 languages at Years 11 and 12. Executive Director Stefan Romaniw says there are over 100 thousand students involved in their programs.

 

It's a very authentic setting where students learn something about their language, learn something about their culture but more importantly have a very strong community connection

“Community language schools are schools that are started by their communities to ensure that the language and the culture is maintained. In some cases, it's the new arrivals, in some cases there’s schools that have been around for 70 to 80 years. So it's a very authentic setting where students learn something about their language, learn something about their culture but more importantly have a very strong community connection.”

He says some communities value language learning as an important way of connecting with one’s roots.

“Some of our more established communities where you’ve got third or fourth generations, they are now looking at how do they convince that fourth generation or their parents to send the children to schools. We are looking at those challenges. We have an expert panel and an academic forum that looks at the issue of retention. How do we retain students? How do we encourage parents?”

Learning another language offers many benefits

Stefan Romaniw is the son of a Ukrainian father and German mother who came to Australia in the late 1940s.
He believes learning another language offers many benefits.

“We live in a global world today. We live in a world where once upon a time to get a letter would take you three weeks. You pick up Skype and you are talking to people overseas. Language is an additional skill that somebody have in terms of trade, in terms of economy, in terms of making sure that people develop the cognitive development of languages. There are whole set of plusses to why people connect with their languages, why they connect with their heritages. Why do I connect with my heritage? Thousands of people in Australia do because they have a bond.”

 

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics show 23 per cent of Australians speak a second language at home

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics show 23 per cent of Australians speak a second language at home - the most common being Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek. Yet language education policies are inconsistent across states and territories. In New South Wales, only about 10 per cent of HSC students undertook a second language in 2013. In Western Australia, less than half of public schools offer second language programs. Victoria is the only state to have mandatory language learning policy from prep to Year 10. Stefan Romaniw says Australia needs a far more strategic national approach.

 

The National Languages Competition offers a chance to highlight the work of language schools and encourage more students to learn languages

“The last national languages policy we had was in 1987. We need a policy that ultimately doesn't chop and change. The issues that we often have are teacher supply, the issue of delivery modes, the issue of making sure that the scaling and ATAR scores don’t really affect a lot of these issues. Because at the moment there are a number of challenges that those that want to take up languages have to overcome.”

The National Languages Competition offers a chance to highlight the work of language schools and encourage more students to learn languages.

 

The competition invites students as young as four through to Year 12 to express what learning a language means to them

“It's a great opportunity for us to partner to focus on language and for schools to just take a minute because they do a lot of things community language schools operate after hours they last for like two hours, three hours. They try to do many things even an opportunity to just take a step back and have a conversation in the classroom about what language means to me and that conversation is a different conversation at Grade 4 level as it is in Year 9 or Year 12.”

The competition invites students as young as four through to Year 12 to express what learning a language means to them. The youngest students are asked to draw a picture while primary and high school participants are to submit a written response in a second language.

 

The competition also encourages education providers to value language education

“Apart from having a competition, we’ll also get the students’ voice. We’ll get a piece of work that I think we’ll do some research on because whether it’s a 300 word essay or whether it’s a colouring thing or whether it’s a two sentence, it’s going to be the students speaking. It’s going to be the children that are speaking and that's what we want to hear.”

The inaugural SBS National Languages Competition accepts entries from June 20th to July 29th

He hopes the competition also encourages education providers to value language education.

“I think the main winners would be the schools themselves because it would give them an indication of how their students understand the issue of languages.”

 

The theme is ‘What does learning language mean to you?’

The inaugural SBS National Languages Competition accepts entries from June 20th to July 29th. The theme is ‘What does learning language mean to you?’ Six winners will be flown to Sydney to receive their award in October.
SBS has partnered with Community Languages Australia in the inaugural SBS National Languages Competition to celebrate this diversity and encourage a love of language learning.

For more information visit sbs.com.au/nlc or the CLA website.

Settlement Guide: benefits of bilingualism
Australia’s diverse population speaks over 300 languages – making it one of the most multilingual countries in the world. Yet experts warn we could face a crisis in foreign language education with a monocultural mindset of “English is enough”. This mentality is turning multilingual students into monolingual English speakers, while native English speakers struggle to acquire a second language in the school system.