Italian bilingual primary school to open in Melbourne

Italian bilingual primary school to open in Melbourne
Italian bilingual primary school to open in Melbourne

A small Victorian primary school will become the first in the state in two decades to formally establish a new bilingual learning program.

A small Victorian primary school will become the first in the state in two decades to formally establish a new bilingual learning program.

The move has prompted calls for more such programs to be established around the country amid criticism of language-education policy.

Luke Waters reports.

Breakfast conversation at the Marsicovetere family home in Melbourne's inner north is always in Italian.

The Australian-born parents, Michael Marsicovetere and Diana Amato, say raising their children to be bilingual was instinctive but, when it came to education, the choice was considered.

"Having a bilingual school reinforces their Italian. It normalises it. For me, it's important that it's not just a washed-down -- a few words here -- enough to maybe hold a really simple conversation."

The couple's 10-year-old daughter Mia is already fluent and says she is considering the doors her linguistic abilities could open.

"Maybe if I want to help in other countries, like refugees and stuff, well, that would help, too, another language."

Mia Marsicovetere, her sister Allessia and their brother William attend Brunswick South Primary School.

It offers robust language programs which complement the language spoken at home.

But this week, a state grant ensured it will become the first in the state to formalise a new bilingual program since 1997.

Victorian education minister James Merlino made the announcement, to the delight of assembled parents and staff.

"Brunswick South will be a fully-fledged, official bilingual school in Victoria."

University of Melbourne linguistics professor Joseph Lo Bianco says he endorses the move and more formal bilingual schools should be established.

He maintains learning outcomes improve significantly for students who learn all subjects in more than one language.

"Their own communications about themselves in their own world that makes you step outside how you've naturalised the world in English to step inside another cultural system."

Professor Lo Bianco recently released a paper arguing, for too long, linguistics education policy has been driven by considerations of trade and business.

"It transcends economic questions. Of course, we should also attend to the needs of the economy, but that's only one part of a language policy. But it seems to have taken over everything."

An appreciative Brunswick South principal Sheryl Hall says she agrees, that the benefits of a formal bilingual education are many and varied.

"It's their confidence, their love of other languages, their appreciation of a much more global perspective, rather than just here in little insular Brunswick."