It has been a pleasure reading the newspaper this morning with all the discussions arising from the Asia White Paper released by the government yesterday.
For Stacey College it is encouraging to hear the call for “deeper and broader people-to-people links with Asia nations across the entire community”. As an organisation promoting language learning, we recognize that languages cannot be learnt in a vacuum, but involve an understanding of the cultures and traditions behind the spoken word. While we see vast numbers of our Asian community coming to Australia to learn English, it is widely recognised that Australians do not have the same passion for embracing the languages of our neighbours. The Asia White Paper has identified Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese and Indonesian as the priority Asian languages. “The broad thrust of the white paper is to seek educational and cultural awareness and integration at all levels of training and schooling so that business, trade and cultural pursuits all benefit from a systemic increase in knowledge and understanding of Asia.” (Denis Shanahan, The Australian.)
Previously in this blog 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 with Asia, and that Asian languages must become a priority in our schools. Clearly Greg Sheridan from the Australian thinks that this is just another of those times. He describes the white paper among other things as “pure spin. It is an emperor whose nakedness is epic.” Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading his passionately written criticism, I will hold out hope that eventually Australians will get on board with the idea that learning a second language is both fundamentally advantageous and essential to being a player in the global community. Once parents recognise the enormous advantage their children will have by being proficient in more than one language the changes will really start to take place.
On my recent trip to Switzerland the thing that most struck me was the constant hubub of multiple languages around me. In Perth it is easy to go a lot of your time without hearing another language. In the airport, and in Switzerland I was reminded what a big world we live in, and what an advantage it is to know other languages. Flying on Emirates they had staff who between them spoke about 10 languages. The hotel I stayed at had multilingual staff which was fortunate for me because I don’t speak German (yet!).
So as you hear all the talk about The Asian Century I hope that you will see it as an opportunity to learn more about our neighbours and perhaps take the opportunity to learn one of their languages.
If you want to check out the White Paper for yourself you can download it here. I found the slideshow particularly helpful as a summary. There are also fact sheets that can be downloaded separately so you can read about areas that are of particular interest to you.