Value in Second Language

Knowledge of a second language is taken for granted in many places around the world. The more I get to know the language industry, the more I meet people who speak two, three and four languages fluently.  Knowing English allows access to a lot of the world. Australia’s advantage of being predominantly English speaking can be a disadvantage as more and more of us are becoming complacent about the importance of learning more than one language. Knowing English plus another language, particularly an Asian language for Australians, is such an advantage. There has been a lot in the press lately about the drop in numbers of university students studying Asian languages. Though money has been poured into supporting the sector, the result is still declining numbers. “The proportion of Year 12 students taking an Asian language fell from 6.6 per cent in 2005 to 5.8 per cent in 2009. Chinese is far from being a mainstream choice, with many pupils being of Chinese background.” (The Australian, ‘Decline in Asian languages a ‘disgrace”, October 26, 2011) Until Australians truly value the importance of fluency in other languages there will continue to be a decline in those prepared to do the hard work.

English on the other hand is a booming industry. Estimates put the number of people currently learning English at 1 Billion (ref). Foreigners coming to Australia realise the importance of speaking English for the benefit of better jobs and ease of living. I would like us to recognise that all those who arrive on our shores, not speaking English, but speaking other languages, often more than one, already have such a valuable skill. It is often not until they learn to speak English that their knowledge of other languages can be utilized.

On the right is an article from today’s Weekend Australian. Even if you don’t use your second language at work, it is considered a sign of ‘cultural competence and an ability to think outside the box’.

Would you consider learning another language today?

6 replies
  1. kirstindijon
    kirstindijon says:

    I’ve just started learning Mandarin Chinese, at it really isn’t easy! I think it’s great for language teachers especially to have some kind of understating of the difficulties learners are facing. It’s great that during CELTA courses trainees are given a language class in Russian for example to give them idea. I think that ideally they would continue to learn a language to deepen this understanding and hopefully an empathy for students struggling with English.

    Here is a link to my first blogpost on this subject, discussing the difficulties involved with reading and writing in a second language.

    • Stacey College
      Stacey College says:

      I absolutely agree. I think if more English speaking Australians were learning a second language there would be more empathy for those trying to learn English. All the best in your Mandarin learning. I will keep in touch with your blog. Regards, Kathy

  2. kimconstable
    kimconstable says:

    I run a multilingual kids company in Ireland and my own kids are fluent in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. The secret is starting young when the synapses of the brain are in abundance, and haven’t dropped away from not being used. This is why before puberty, learning a language is so easy. After puberty, the language acquisition is moved from the frontal lobe to the rear, to make room for sexual development. Communication isn’t as important at this stage (hence moody teenagers!). You should check out our blog at 😀

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  1. […] we have discussed the dismal facts about Asian language learning in Australian high schools (Value in Second Language.) This is not the first time the Australian government has declared that we must be more engaged […]

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