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?