Second languages and Australian schooling

5 Oct 2009

The case for increased second language learning in Australia is better grounded in the personal benefits to individual learners than in arguments about economic and social benefits according to this review.

Second language education is a subject of continual public debate in Australia, reflecting a widespread perception that the cultivation of bilingual skills among young Australians serves economic, cultural and intellectual needs. However, this positive appreciation of the importance of language learning translates to low school completion rates in second languages, high rates of attrition from university language programs and a decline in the number of languages taught, their duration, spread and level of seriousness. A deep and persistent malaise afflicts language education in Australia, regrettably shared with other English-speaking nations, and the expressions of concern, even frustration, at the fragility of languages suggests a public refusal to accept this state of affairs.

During 2009 there has been an ongoing debate in the pages of newspapers and through the electronic and digital media, but in the past energetic policy development, media commentary, political promise and public agitation have only partially redressed the language learning problem. It is in this context that the present Australian Education Review has been produced, to reflect on the wider purposes for language study, and some of the deeper issues involved in forging a stable solution for their place in Australian schooling. As a result, the review addresses the state
of the national language teaching effort, reflects on the guiding purposes and offers pointers towards securing a permanent place for continuous, high-quality and representative second language education in Australian schooling.

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