Correspondence: Why don't more Australians learn languages?March 27th, 2011
I can remember when I was very young, the delight I felt as I played a game of pretending to speak another language.
It was generally my parents who had to endure this childish game, however they continued to play along which perhaps fostered my growth and appreciation for languages.
Now I am much older and drawing to the end of my senior school life, I reminisce those fun times and find myself questioning why more students don’t choose to study languages.
Perhaps, the Anglophone society that I’ve been raised in chooses to reject languages as being integral to our globalised world as English is often considered the dominant universal language?
Wherever the answer may lie, as a consequence, the vast majority of high-school language students tend to negate languages as being important career platforms and choose not to pursue them concurrently with their post-school options.
Leaving me with a pressing question, where has Australia’s globally focussed citizens gone and what future do we have in this rapidly mobile and global world?
I was driven to do some research and was fascinated to find that in European countries it is common for people to learn up to three languages. Then why isn’t it that more Australian’s aren’t learning foreign languages?
As we look to post-school options we begin to examine our future prospects and whether we choose to prepare ourselves for the increasingly international world with few trade barriers.
My belief is that most Australians accept the idea that non-Anglophone students should endeavour to learn English in order to communicate with us. To put simply, I view this as intolerant and improper and that, foremost, our ability to speak more than one language is a mark of respect and cultural acceptance.
Australia is quite a distant and isolated country on a global scale, yet communication and travel mobility is increasing meaning people are failing to keep up with it and is why I think that a move to become bilingual is now a necessity. If you can dream of where a language can take you and how it can benefit the relationships you will encounter, choices become much easier.
A recent report by Michael Thomas, a Hollywood language teacher who has taught celebrities such as Doris Day, Emma Thompson and Woody Allen, highlighted some interesting benefits brought to those who learn a foreign language.
According to his report, those who learn a foreign language are richer, happier and are regarded as more romantic than those who can only speak English. Companies are now prepared to pay workers more if they speak or learn a foreign language. Those who speak a foreign language were also rated more highly as they are considered to be more intelligent.
When languages were first introduced into our curriculum, I instantly took every opportunity that came about to absorb exposure to the language and cultural experiences. I found myself participating in speaking competitions to overseas language exchanges where I could see language in action and immerse myself to develop my conversation skills. Perhaps the rigours of school language lessons provide a dull insight into the opportunity for memories, relationships and success positioning.
Languages play an important role in defining a nation and it’s people and similarly is structured by a nation’s history. Communicating in a language allows people to connect with each other, making a language a constantly evolving, living and breathing portal to national identity.
I can assure you however when my children begin to dabble in languages, I will be help direct their enthusiasm towards the incredible breadth of opportunity and enlightenment that I have encountered in my memorable-but-not-over journey.
I hope that one day more people will realise what truly is a global citizen and contribute to more diverse, globally connected and a welcoming country.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?