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Episode 37: Australia's Struggles with Second Languages

It's been said Australia is 'miles away' from where it should be when it comes to learning a language other than English.

SBS Italian news, with a slower pace. This is Slow Italian, Fast Learning, the very best of the week’s news, read at a slower pace, with Italian and English text available.

Italian

Imparare una lingua da bambino dovrebbe essere un’esperienza divertente e gratificante, ma in Australia pochissimi bambini affrontano la sfida.

Secondo il censimento del 2016, solo l'11% degli alunni australiani dell'anno 12 si diploma in una seconda lingua, un numero minore rispetto a dieci anni fa.

La dottoressa Ruth Arber, insegnante di lingue alla Deakin University, ritiene che la cultura monolingue australiana renda le persone pigre.

"A monolingual mindset is the way in which we understand English as being the only language that we need, but put simply for many Australians, they really don't understand why they might need another language, because in Australia we can speak English and if we travel overseas most people speak English as well."

Nonostante un quarto degli australiani parli un'altra lingua a casa, e più di 300 lingue siano parlate in tutta la nazione, queste abilità linguistiche non vengono passate ad allievi a livello scolastico o universitario.

Ora esperti e responsabili delle politiche governative cercano di incoraggiare una nuova generazione a parlare un'altra lingua.

Arber sostiene che introdurre una lingua in tenera età sia il modo migliore per coinvolgere i bambini e avviarli al loro futuro.

"Multilingual children in fact do better because they start to be able conceptualise the world in different ways and they have those understandings from quite a young age."

Una nuova iniziativa nazionale, il programma Early Learning Languages Australia, o ELLA, mira a coinvolgere i bambini nello studio delle lingue fin dall'anno precedente all’inizio della scuola pubblica.

Amanda Macdonald, portavoce di ELLA, spiega che il programma vuole normalizzare l'apprendimento di una seconda lingua.

"The theory behind it was that there was decreasing numbers of students studying a language, particularly at years 11 and 12, that the numbers had declined dramatically, and the idea is to boost numbers of Australian students learning an additional language, and why not start with preschool to really get them interested and engaged and think that learning an additional language is something normal."

ELLA è un programma di apprendimento interattivo basato sul gioco che utilizza app su dispositivi tablet.

Ci sono 300 "preschool" che utilizzano ELLA a livello nazionale e che scelgono la lingua desiderata in collaborazione con la comunità locale.

Il mandarino è la lingua preferita dalle preschool, seguita da giapponese, italiano e spagnolo.

Il successo di ELLA ha attirato l'attenzione del governo federale, che ha annunciato recentemente l'intenzione di investire nel programma ulteriori 11 milioni di dollari, ma gli esperti ritengono che la sfida più impegnativa sia mantenere l'interesse degli studenti a livello di scuole superiori.

Per affrontare il problema, alcune scuole hanno iniziato programmi di immersione linguistica, dove gli studenti imparano le materie, tra cui matematica e scienze, nella seconda lingua.

Molti ritengono che in Australia dovrebbe esserci un'enfasi maggiore sulle lingue asiatiche, considerata la vicinanza all'Asia e le relative opportunità economiche.

English

Learning a language as a child should be a fun and rewarding experience.

But in Australia, very few children are taking on the challenge.

According to the 2016 Census, just 11 per cent of Australian Year 12 students graduated with a second language - many fewer than a decade ago.

Dr Ruth Arber, senior lecturer of language education at Deakin University, says Australia's 'monolingist' culture makes people lazy.

"A monolingual mindset is the way in which we understand English as being the only language that we need, but put simply for many Australians, they really don't understand why they might need another language, because in Australia we can speak English and if we travel overseas most people speak English as well."

Despite one-quarter of Australians speaking another language at home, and over 300 languages spoken nationwide, these skills are not being passed on to new learners at school or university level.

Now experts and policymakers are trying to encourage a new generation of additional language-speakers.

Dr Arber says introducing language early is the best way to engage children and set them up for the future.

"Multilingual children in fact do better because they start to be able conceptualise the world in different ways and they have those understandings from quite a young age."

A new national initiative, the Early Learning Languages Australia program, or ELLA, aims to get children involved in languages from as early as preschool.

ELLA spokeswoman Amanda Macdonald says they want to normalise additional language-learning.

"The theory behind it was that there was decreasing numbers of students studying a language, particularly at years 11 and 12, that the numbers had declined dramatically, and the idea is to boost numbers of Australian students learning an additional language, and why not start with preschool to really get them interested and engaged and think that learning an additional language is something normal."

ELLA is a play-based interactive learning program using apps on tablet devices.

There are 300 preschools using ELLA nationwide, who pick their desired language in collaboration with the local community.

Mandarin is the most popular language chosen by preschools, followed by Japanese, Italian and Spanish.

ELLA's success has caught the eye of the federal government, who recently announced they will invest an additional $11 million into the program.

But experts say the biggest struggle is keeping students interested in languages at a highschool level.

To address this, some schools have introduced language immersion programs, where students learn all their subjects, including maths and science, in language.

Many believe there should be a stronger emphasis on Asian languages in Australia, given Asia's proximity and economic opportunities.

Report by Amelia Dunn

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