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Australia Education

Australia Makes Asian Language Learning a Priority 230

Posted by timothy
from the but-latin-builds-character dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Australian government came a step closer to formalising its plans to make Asian language study compulsory for schools this week. It has released a draft curriculum for public consultation which reveals plans to include Indonesian, Korean and french language in the curriculum. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard publicly stated in September 2012 that in response to the "staggering growth" in the region, the government would be instigating 25 key measures to strengthen and exploit links with Asia. The plan includes the requirement that one third of civil servants and company directors have a "deep knowledge," thousands of scholarships for Asian students, and the opportunity for every schoolchild to learn one of four "priority" languages- Chinese, Hindi, Japanese or Indonesian."
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Australia Makes Asian Language Learning a Priority

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  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @07:56AM (#43780513) Journal

    French is an asian language now?

    (And why no capital for the poor old frogs?)

    • Sure, French used to be an official language in colonial Indochina, but it hardly seems to make sense to consider on par with the other languages listed.
    • by jrumney (197329)

      New Caledonia is just off the coast of Australia. And it is still maybe more widely spoken than English in parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

    • by wmac1 (2478314)

      and Why not the most common language of the region (i.e. Chinese) is included as an option. I am aware that there are many different dialects but Mandarin could possibly being used by a very large number of Asian (hundreds of millions or even near to a billion?).

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        I really wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese back in school here in the U.S. But almost no school, secondary or college, offers it. Everyone just offers the same old Spanish/French/German--as opposed to Chinese, which would actually be REALLY useful in this modern world.

        • by LordNimon (85072)

          Chinese, which would actually be REALLY useful in this modern world.

          No, it wouldn't. It would take a massive effort to be proficient enough in Mandarin to be able to use it, and you would still not be accepted by native Chinese, because you're not one of them. You won't be able to use your rudimentary Mandarin to make any kind of business deals in China. If anything, you'd just be forced by your employer to travel to Beijing frequently and breathe in the toxic air. No thanks.

          • by GerryHattrick (1037764) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:59AM (#43781857)
            My work colleague had rudimentary Mandarin. Whenever we had an official Chinese delegation in London, she would help me in the Boardroom. They were hugely delighted with her greetings, and the meetings became much more sociable. I was amazed that Chinese/Brit subtle humour had much in common, too. Of course we had a professional interpreter also on the team, but do NOT underrate the value of effort to learn some sounds in Mandarin, and (never mind the business) to laugh along with your ancient-world counterparts.
            • Additionally - we Brits lost the mid-'American' landmass through unwise laws and a bit of a Revolution. Now, we sad Brits are enmeshed in EU Socialism and their 'Political Correctness'. But at least the escaped Aussies ("No Worries") are fully engaged with the future.
          • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @11:13AM (#43782863)

            you would still not be accepted by native Chinese, because you're not one of them.

            I can speak and read Chinese, and it is indeed a very difficult language. But you are wrong about cultural acceptance. Chinese people are very welcoming, and will be delighted and helpful if you make an effort to speak even a little of their language. China is a multicultural and multilingual country, and even some Chinese people speak Mandarin poorly, so they have flexible expectations about fluency. This is in contrast to Japan, which is like France, where they expect you to speak their language perfectly or not at all, and even then, will never accept you as one of their own.

          • Our former, deposed, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd bignoted himself by declaring himself fluent in Mandarin. Needless to say, as PM he gave a few scripted speeches in the language, appearing prominently on the TV.

            But when push came to shove, Beijing told him to get stuffed in terms of foreign policy, so a fat load of good his supposed fluency did him.

            You'll hence probably find the average Australian is quite sceptical of the motives for this legislation. Learning languages is a good thing in itself but still...

      • by JanneM (7445)

        If you look at the bottom of the post (I know, I know) you'll find that Chinese, Hindi, Japanese and Indonesian are already the highest priority, and the other languages are considered in addition to them.

  • Learning is great (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Uber Banker (655221) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:02AM (#43780569)

    the opportunity for every schoolchild to learn one of four "priority" languages- Chinese, Hindi, Japanese or Indonesian.

    Learning is surely great in all forms. But I am confused why Hindi is a 'priority language'. Every corporate senior person I've met from India - Director type level - not only speaks several Indian languages, but also has flawless English in terms of grammar and vocabulary mixed with a somewhat local accent depending on where they're from in India, unless, as an in-joke among Indian colleagues goes, they're walked past the US Embassy and are suddenly embroiled with a thick US accent.

    Chinese, for dealing with anyone outside the BPO / ITO / major trade companies: government, state owned and specialists yes.

    Japanese, things in Japan tend to happen in Japanese despite the speaker's English ability, whatever the industry, so yes.

    Indonesian, honestly have no experience.

    But Hindi. Seems odd to be a priority.

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:06AM (#43780587)

      Every corporate senior person I've met from India - Director type level - not only speaks several Indian languages, but also has flawless English in terms of grammar and vocabulary

      If you were dealing with workers on a factory floor, even skilled ones, your experience would be different

      • by fazig (2909523)
        Perhaps. But English already is an official, although not primary, language in India. You can assume that more and more people will most likely learn to speak English rather than to expect the rest of the world to learn their over 20 different native languages. Indians also shouldn't have a hard time to grasp English since their languages are still part of the Indo-European languages and share similarities.

        In general: It will be a sad day for international communication when Chinese languages becomes the
        • by Chrisq (894406)

          Indians also shouldn't have a hard time to grasp English since their languages are still part of the Indo-European languages and share similarities.

          Generally true of Northern Indian languages, though the Dravidian languages spoken in the South are more different to Hindi than Hindi is to English. Also some areas in the Himalayas speak languages closer to the languages of Tibet and Mayamar, which are completely different again.

        • by Millennium (2451)

          Pretty much everybody has a hard time grasping English, even other speakers of Indo-European languages.

          All languages pick up loanwords from other languages, but English has a couple of... special... habits as far as this is concerned. Loanwords are perhaps the toughest: all languages pick up words from other languages when they come into contact, but most languages adapt the spelling and surrounding grammar into their own systems. English doesn't normally do that: it preserves the original spelling and ofte

          • by Cyberax (705495)
            This. I first became fluent in _written_ English (which is not that bad) but then I actually started _speaking_ it. And I'm still surprised from time to time by pronunciations.
    • Re:Learning is great (Score:5, Informative)

      by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:12AM (#43780641)

      Learning is surely great in all forms.

      . . . plus by learning the language . . . you also learn the culture. And be able to understand it better. That makes real business sense.

      • Very much agree here.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        You also learn what the client or supplier is discussing amongst themselves when they think you can't understand them. Often very useful in a business context.

    • Re:Learning is great (Score:5, Informative)

      by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:22AM (#43781419) Homepage

      Abram de Swaan identified a list of twelve "supercentral languages" that he believed serve as extremely common bridges among speakers of different languages in their native dialects. If one considers the region that people in English-speaking countries typically think of as "Asia," four of the supercentral languages are native to that region: Chinese (specifically Mandarin), Hindi, Malay (of which Indonesian is a dialect), and Japanese. This list was probably a strong factor when they were deciding which languages to use.

      Geographically speaking, there are actually two other languages on the list that are native to the Asian continent: Arabic and Russian. I doubt, however, that the people drawing up these lists considered the regions these languages are from to be "real Asia." Make of that what you will.

      (Incidentally, the other six languages are English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili).

      • Russian was taught at my school during the 80s. It dropped fairly quickly from the Australian curriculum after Gorby was deposed by Boris and the Berlin wall was torn down.

        Arabic is taught downunder but generally to Muslim kids in Islamic schools.

  • I currently live in South East Asia (born European), and the economic dynamism is remarkable. It is a good idea to prepare young people to "the century of Asia". I wish that I had started learning Mandarin and Japanese earlier in life.
  • The government is trying to eradicate everything English and have everyone just talk French. The optimist in me says Quebec should learn from this, but the realist in me knows they won't. Pretty bad when children can't use any language but French during recess and during their lunch breaks, we have language cops going around offices making sure microwave buttons are in French and that Italian pasta names are in French, can't have people ordering RIGATONI now can we....
    • by jez9999 (618189)

      Ah I always love getting a bit of nourriture rapide when I'm in Quebec...

    • I'm not quite sure how to translate "fuck you" in french, and I was born and lived all my life in Québec.

      I'm asking, just in case I ever have to confront one of those "language cop".

  • English... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:45AM (#43780951)

    Interestingly, throughout Asia English is taught in schools. In Taiwan it's become a mandatory part of the curriculum, and that may also be the case elsewhere. When it's not, many parents go out of their ways to get their kids to learn the language.

    In the US, however, a second language seems to be selected based on whatever the prevailing language spoken by the dominant ethnic group in the area. And that's assuming they offer a second language at all. More often than not the language ends up being Spanish, which all too frequently becomes more of a service to ESL students than value to anyone else.

    I find that to be a persistent problem with the American educational system, there's no goal and thinking is often too insular. The difference between systems is that overseas they're trying to make people competitive internationally but still expecting their citizens speak the official language. Meanwhile, Americans, instead of stressing the importance of English for success keep making accommodations for non-speakers.

    I suppose someday the US might become a Spanish speaking nation, and that's totally fine. But we're far from that reality and currently Asian nations are economically dominant and on the rise. Of course, it's not feasible to keep switching languages every time some new nation rises in influence, which is why we've got English as the standard and why everyone continues to learn that.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      I suppose someday the US might become a Spanish speaking nation, and that's totally fine.

      Become? It has been for over a century and a half. And yet, despite it being "fine", you were just whining about it.

      • Well, I disagree that it's fine, as I would prefer to keep English alive and well. At worst, we'll be a bilingual country in half a century. It seems you truly have no problem with it, as you use the derogatory "whine" to describe the apparent issue parent has with the notion.

    • Re:English... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pla (258480) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:34AM (#43781567) Journal
      And that's assuming they offer a second language at all. More often than not the language ends up being Spanish, which all too frequently becomes more of a service to ESL students than value to anyone else.

      First - I appreciate the value of knowing a second language. I don't mean this as a "speak English or die" rant...

      But learning a second language while living in the US counts as a complete and utter waste of time. If you don't use a language, you lose it, simple as that - Personally, I took seven years of French in school, starting from a young age (2nd grade), and I can just barely read it, painfully slow. Despite having wasted somewhere on the order of thousands of hours of instructional time cramming that language into my head, I have very nearly no ability whatsoever to carry on a conversation with someone who only speaks French.

      Now, if you live in an area (even in the US) that has a large Spanish-speaking population - Perhaps you can use it enough that it will "stick". If you live in Europe, where they have multiple languages spoken regularly, a second or even third language makes functional sense. If you live somewhere that doesn't speak English (and again, I don't mean this as a pro-English screed), it makes sense to learn English as a second language, as the lingua Franca of international business (and yes, I appreciate the irony of that phrase).

      Australia will have the exact same problem we have in the US. They can mandate kids pass a proficiency test, but three years after highschool, it will have made no difference in the number of languages known.
      • Re:English... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @10:02AM (#43781901) Homepage Journal

        They can mandate kids pass a proficiency test, but three years after highschool, it will have made no difference

        So, it is just like biology and physics and math beyond first year algebra.

        The point is it does make a difference, for they are better for having learned it, because basic concepts aren't forgotten and they will be that much less ignorant (and provincial), and some of the kids will make use of what they learn, thus advancing their country's interests in international trade.

    • I suppose someday the US might become a Spanish speaking nation, and that's totally fine. But we're far from that reality and currently Asian nations are economically dominant and on the rise. Of course, it's not feasible to keep switching languages every time some new nation rises in influence, which is why we've got English as the standard and why everyone continues to learn that.

      One of the really great things going for Spanish is that to native speakers of a Western European language like English, Spanish is very easy to learn. Spelling is phonetic. Grammar is essentially simple with the possible exception of reflexive verbs, but those are easy enough to learn. That's in no way a criticism of Spanish to call it "easy to learn". In fact, I'd argue that it's a great strength. One of the reasons that English became a world language is that while there are complicated aspects (str

    • In the US, however, a second language seems to be selected based on whatever the prevailing language spoken by the dominant ethnic group in the area. And that's assuming they offer a second language at all. More often than not the language ends up being Spanish, which all too frequently becomes more of a service to ESL students than value to anyone else.

      I've noticed the exact opposite during my education. I live in Georgia, and we have a lot of Spanish speakers in my general area. Of course my middle school offered only French and Spanish (I chose French). My high school offered French, Spanish, Latin, and German (I did one year of French and 3 of Latin). I went to college in rural, middle of nowhere North Carolina, and my university offered French, Spanish, Biblical Greek (it was a baptist university) German (which I took for 2 years) and, my senior y

    • Or, you know, maybe because it's the language spoken by the other half of the western hemisphere? Just a thought.
    • I suppose someday the US might become a Spanish speaking nation, and that's totally fine. But we're far from that reality and currently Asian nations are economically dominant and on the rise. Of course, it's not feasible to keep switching languages every time some new nation rises in influence, which is why we've got English as the standard and why everyone continues to learn that.

      Much of the U.S. is already bilingual. But learning Spanish isn't just a good idea for use at home, it's useful rather far afield -- more people in the Western Hemisphere speak Spanish than English. Asian languages might be trendier, but if you can't find good international business opportunities somewhere between the Rio Grande and Drake Passage, then the problem isn't with the language you studied.

  • I live here and have a bunch of friends who were either taught indonesian or Japanese at least for a couple of classes in school.

    It makes sense, as most of our trade is within the Asian region.

    I know this may come as a shock to those in the US, but learning a language other than English is pretty common in other English speaking countries, especially in the Eurozone.

    Most of the people working in hospitality I dealt with during a 6 week tour of Europe (inc, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Czech R

    • Most of the people working in hospitality I dealt with during a 6 week tour of Europe (inc, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, etc.) spoke at least 2-3 languages. One of our swiss tour guides spoke at least 5.

      That'd probably be true in the US if every state spoke a different language. One of the things that always strikes me when I go to Europe is how physically small the countries are. I'm not saying that's good, bad or indifferent, but it is a very different experience from being in the US. Hop in the car or on a train, travel a few hours (or less) and you're in a different country speaking a different language. It provides a much greater incentive to learn, and makes it much easier to retain a knowledge of ot

  • by davidannis (939047) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @10:39AM (#43782393) Homepage
    Put any 5 year old in China for a year and he'll speak Chinese in a year. The research shows significant cognitive advantages are gained from bilingual education.

    As a parent who desperately wants his children to become fluent in at least two languages I am stuck with horrible choices because I live in America. I have cobbled together language training for my two older sons while they were young enough to learn but it was extremely difficult. Now, to get an immersion Chinese program for him, I am using school of choice to send my youngest to an inner city school where they are so poor that they just fired all of the elementary school art, music, and PE teachers to close a budget gap. When will we make education a priority in this country?

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      Has there been any research into the disadvantages of a bilingual education? Using up the brain's (limited) space just to have another way of saying the same thing (or almost the same thing) seems a bit of a waste if you ask me.
      • That's a bit like saying that time spent exercising is using your muscles' limited capacity without really moving anything. Exercising your mind in certain ways has beneficial effects.
        • by Twinbee (767046)
          I'm saying the regained memory could have been put to other (and maybe better) use. It's not like we have an unlimited amount of RAM in our brains. So yes, there are benefits, but I bet there are disadvantages too.
          • Kids are not computers. We don't have a fixed amount of RAM just as we don't have a fixed amount of muscle. We have a brain that can become more or less efficient at calculating, juggling tasks, memory, recognizing patterns, etc. While my kids won't be poets or professional chess players, learning poetry and chess will help develop their cognitive abilities. Language learning has been demonstrated to help children develop all sorts of important cognitive skills, just like sports help develop coordination, b
          • To further set your mind at ease:

            Although there must be a physical limit to how many memories we can store, it is extremely large. We don’t have to worry about running out of space in our lifetime.

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-the-memory-capacity [scientificamerican.com]

            neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.

  • So, I'm semi-fluent in Spanish and I wrote to my federal politician about incentives for learning Portuguese - no response.

    Who will teach the people of Timor Leste their own official language? Certainly not interested volunteers from Australia.

    • If they can't do it themselves, then how important can it possibly be? Besides, if you really want to go teach them something, why not teach them English instead?

      • It's important to the identity of the people of Timor Leste. For nearly 300 years they were under the Portuguese flag until the estado novo collapsed and the Indonesians invaded soon afterwards. Rightly or wrongly, the government has reasserted its Lusophonic identity, making Portuguese again an official language alongside Tetum.

        As for not being able to "do it themselves", since independence in 2002 they've relied economically on benefactors such as its neighbour Australia and the UN to provide aid. With Po

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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