Languages in crisis

17 Jul 2007

Australia has a proud reputation in many areas of education, research and training. Languages Other Than English (LOTE), is no longer one of them and urgent action is required if Australia is to avoid the serious educational, national security and economic consequences of becoming monolingual. Decades of policy neglect and inaction mean Australian school students now spend less time learning a second language than students in all other OECD countries. The percentage of Year 12 students graduating with a second language has fallen dramatically from 40 per cent in the 1960s to 13 per cent today.

In the past decade the number of languages offered in our universities has dropped from 66 to 29 and most states and territories are experiencing difficulty recruiting adequately skilled language teachers.2 This is occurring at a time when monolingual native English speakers are losing their linguistic advantages and are increasingly competing with multilingual graduates from around the world.

Australian policy and decision makers are aware of the benefits of learning another language from a young age. A myriad of reports on foreign language education has endorsed the many social, cultural, economic, cognitive and personal benefits that can flow from learning a second language.

The languages crisis Australia is experiencing cannot be solved by one sector of the education system alone. A co-ordinated national approach involving schools, community groups, universities and state and territory governments is required. This paper sets out the need for a national policy on Languages Other Than English in education.

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