Meet the people keeping linguistic heritage alive.
While most of Australia speaks English today, there was a time when hundreds of different languages were spoken across the continent.
Only around 20 indigenous languages are still spoken in Australia but teachers and linguists around the country are working to keep them alive, so that the next generation can speak the words of their ancestors.
Professor Jakelin Troy is the Director of the University of Sydney's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Office. Professor Nicholas Evans is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.
Kate Reitzenstein's insight:
One of the best conversations around second language learning I have ever heard on radio! Professor Jakelin Troy and Professor Nicholas Evans discuss the dynamic nature of languages, ways we can intervene to keep Aboriginal languages alive and how learning any language helps us to learn our first and many more thereafter. Make a cup of tea, sit back and listen to this excellent 1 hour podcast!!!
To transform current debates about Languages education, we need a national language policy that works from an understanding of the multilingual capability of the world. A national policy could formally predicate the centrality of Languages education in schools and the latent multilingual capacity of multicultural Australia.
A national language policy would reshape more than school timetables and trade figures. Multilingualism and Languages education are too often understood in instrumentalist terms that cannot capture the complex linguistic, performative and normative understandings that are invested in language learning. The instrumentalist paradigm is underpinned by a monolingual mindset that, by default, positions Languages as an advantageous add-on skill. Learners may (and do) opt out.
Language, however, is both an element and an engine, component and constitutive of knowledge, culture and identity. It is this relationship that embeds the learning, use and maintenance of languages in and beyond Australia. This dynamic inter-dependence provides a sustainable focus and rationale for Languages education in our schools: the authentic negotiation of understandings of culture and identities through and in languages. A multilingual lens opens up new perspectives for socially just and innovative Languages education beyond the ‘first’ and ‘foreign’.
Kate Reitzenstein's insight:
Brilliant! Read the full article by clicking on the title.
Knowing one or more foreign languages enables you to savour the world with different tongues. It can help broaden your horizons, make you appreciate the dizzying diversity of the world, while driving home that, despite our differences, we share many remarkable similarities.
Naturally, multilingualism does not inoculate against xenophobia and bigotry, but it makes it harder. As fear of the “other” rises around the world, the importance of this cultural agility is only set to grow. In these increasingly troubled, divisive times, we need to tap into every ounce of sympathy and empathy we can muster.
In March, Andreas Schleicher, education head at the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, criticised the Australian education system for falling behind.
His critique came after the release of the results of the Program for International Student Assessment, a test of 15 year-old students conducted every three years.
Australia's ranking had declined significantly, with 20 per cent of students not able to demonstrate basic skills.
Andrew Ferguson from the Modern Language Teachers Association of Victoria says those results should prompt a rethink of Australia's language-learning policy.
"We've had Naplan flatlining in a number of areas, and we've had decades of concentration, in particular, in primary on literacy and numeracy. Perhaps we need to rethink those strategies. The countries that are doing really well on OECD rankings are ones that have a plethora of subjects, and, in particular, multilingualism and appreciation of other cultures is built into the system. It's simply a given. Nobody questions it."
“Bilinguals are a really a model of cognitive control,” Pennsylvania State University cognitive scientist Judith F. Kroll told Quartz, citing bilinguals’ ability to both hold two languages in their head and expertly switch between them at the right times. Kroll presented her work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting held in Washington, DC last weekend (Feb. 13). If you speak two languages and have ever found this task to be difficult—choosing the “right” tongue based on the context you’re in—it’s because both languages are always “on” in the brains of bilinguals, as Kroll and other cognitive scientists have seen. In other words, the brain is continually processing information in both languages.
Australia is a country rightly praised for the success of multiculturalism, a society enriched by the contribution of people from across the globe. But it is remarkable that despite such welcome diversity, the nation remains stubbornly monolingual. The last census revealed more than a quarter of Australia's population was born overseas, yet 80 per cent of people speak only English in their homes.
Decades of applied educational and linguistic research have deepened our understanding of the benefits of bilingualism and bilingual education. Bilinguals have been shown to be more flexible in their thinking and more adept at thinking about how they use language to make themselves understood. Bilingual speakers have also been shown to be more effective at creative and divergent thinking.
In his office in Sydney University’s education faculty, Ken Cruickshank is animated. He quotes from a vice-chancellors' report from the Group of Eight leading universities: "If Australia discovered untapped oil and gas reserves, it would be considered foolish to ignore them. Yet Australia does ignore its language resources."
“We’ve got to the stage," Cruickshank says, "where languages are in terminal decline. Today, young Australians spend less time studying languages than their counterparts in any other OECD country.
“It's the norm in Europe for students to study two languages. In Australia, hardly anyone does. In the US and the UK, half of their students do languages for their final year of schooling. In Australia, it’s now under 12 per cent."
Artificial intelligence is difficult to develop because real intelligence is mysterious. This mystery manifests in language, or “the dress of thought” as the writer Samuel Johnson put it, and language remains a major challenge to the development of artificial intelligence.
“There’s no way you can have an AI system that’s humanlike that doesn’t have language at the heart of it,” Josh Tenenbaum, a professor of cognitive science and computation at MIT told Technology Review in August.
“There’s a lot regarding the experience of being a linguist that rang true,” says Jennifer Nycz, a linguist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “For example, the fact that other characters in the film expect the linguist to just know all the languages, including the alien one. None of us are C-3PO!”
But the work of understanding a new language is only a small part of what linguists actually do. “For many of us, the focus of our work is less about the details of any particular language and more about larger questions, like how languages are learned,” says Georgetown linguist Nicholas Subtirelu. He adds that the film focuses on the multilingual abilities of Banks in a way that feeds into popular perceptions of linguists as “professional polyglots.”
The Elizabethan teacher and translator John Florio wasn’t the sort of person who sugar-coated his opinions. In 1578, he complained about the Englishmen he saw in the company of foreigners, ‘who can neither speak, nor understand with them, but stands as one mute’ – this poor monoglot Englishman is ‘mocked of them, and despised of all’. ‘What a shame is that?’ asks Florio – ‘what a reproach to his parents? what a loss to him? and what heart’s grief to think thereon?’ Florio’s England is not ours, but his exasperation might sound familiar.
For over a decade, the number of pupils taking foreign languages for A level and beyond has been diminishing rapidly. This is, in part, the government’s fault: around a decade ago, foreign languages were removed from the core curriculum, taking away many 14-year-olds’ motivation and impetus to speak another language. However, the falling popularity of languages is perhaps down to something more serious: a deep-rooted way of thinking; an arrogance even, that English speakers have no need to learn another tongue because their own is by far the most important.
It’s time, though, for this conception to be properly challenged. The government did have its reasons all those years ago for de-prioritising language study: to acquire fluency requires a dedication both outside and beyond school and university education. Learning a foreign language is perceived as a more difficult and perhaps elitist option, and not an obvious choice for future career prospects. But all these arguments fall apart on closer inspection, and in the light of the recent referendum, it’s becoming clear that being competent in a language other than your own is more important than ever. English may not be an official EU language for much longer.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, research shows that:
Language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized test measures. Language learning is beneficial to both monolingual English and English language learners in bilingual and two-way immersion programs. Language learning is beneficial in the development of students’ reading abilities. There is evidence that language learners transfer skills from one language to another. There is a correlation between second language learning and increased linguistic awareness. There is a correlation between language learning and students’ ability to hypothesize in science. Language learning can benefit all students. There is a correlation between young children’s second language development and the development of print awareness. Heritage learners who use their language skills to interpret and translate for family members experience higher academic performance and greater self-efficacy. There is a correlation between language study and higher scores on the SAT and ACT Tests. There is a correlation between high school foreign language study and higher academic performance at the college level.
More than 1100 PMACS students learn Indonesian as their second language, making it the largest Indonesian language program in WA, and acting head of languages Laura Wimsett said the Michael Jakarimeilena concert was an important part of the program.
“The concert was an opportunity for students to engage with a real-life celebrity across linguistic and cultural boundaries,” Ms Wimsett said.
“Music is a powerful bridge between cultures and the concert was a fun and engaging way for students to learn.”
The school offers high-achieving Year 10 students the opportunity to move into the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank stage 1 and 2 Indonesian second language course, allowing them to complete stages 3 and 4 and the ATAR exam in Year 11, a year earlier than others.
Students also concurrently complete the Vocational Education and Training certificate 2 and 3 in applied languages (Indonesian).
Australia’s diverse population speaks over 300 languages – making it one of the most multilingual countries in the world. Yet experts warn we could face a crisis in foreign language education with a monocultural mindset of “English is enough”. This mentality is turning multilingual students into monolingual English speakers, while native English speakers struggle to acquire a second language in the school system.
Kate Reitzenstein's insight:
Thank you for recommending this fabulous article Jane @ MLC. Click the title to read the full article.
This circle was created by Alberto Lucas Lopez for the South China Morning Post. It’s an easy way to wrap your head around the 4.1 billion people around the world who speak (as their native tongue) one of 23 of the world’s most-spoken languages
To maintain the benefits of bilingualism you need to keep using your languages and that can be tricky, especially for older people who may not have opportunities to practise. Perhaps we need clubs where people can meet to speak other languages. Bak has done a small study with elderly people learning Gaelic in Scotland and seen significant benefits after just one week. Now he aims to carry out a much larger trial. In the meantime, it makes sense to talk, hablar, parler, sprechen, beszél, berbicara – in as many languages as possible.
Kate Reitzenstein's insight:
Excellent article. Click onto the title to view the full text.
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