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Monday, June 11, 2007

Quote, then discuss

"...The move comes as figures show the rate of year 12 students graduating with
a second language has dropped from 40 per cent in the 1960s to 13 per cent
today — with Australian students spending less time learning a language than all
other countries in the OECD*.

This saddens me. But I guess, come your senior years, you have the liberty to choose what subjects you want to study, and so if you don't want to learn German, or French, or Cantonese, then that's your choice. Languages (from memory) aren't marked up as much as, say, Chemistry, so if you're banking on a high TER (or whatever they call it now) then you'd be inclined to pass in favour of harder sciences. (This saddens me too - but that's another subject).

It would depend on the school too. Fully qualified languages teachers are becoming rarer these days. I only got the chance to study it because the teacher was (ahem)....a more mature lady...and had been doing so for years.

Kids are missing out. There's something wholly cerebral about learning another language: it's about culture, rhyme, rhythm, manners, structure. There's something humbling about a child/ teenager having to stumble across the words for the first time "I need to go to the bathroom" or the equally embarrassing "How do I get to the public rest rooms?" I had difficulty (as most do) in elementary French, but there's something so damn sexy about the pronunciation and knowing the difference between 'Tu' and - eh- I forget the other one. 'Vu'?

The dividends start paying out once you're out on the party scene (more so for blokes though, I believe) when you can impress your peers by reciting a full stanza of Goethe's "Der Erlenkoenig". Whether or not after a few drinks your diction is 100% correct is another matter. Still, the benefits fully outnumber the deficits.

What do you think? Did you learn a language? Or were you deprived of the challenge? Did it bother you? Does the statistic bother you?

*Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Don't ask me what this is, I have no idea.

Comments on "Quote, then discuss"


Blogger crissybug said ... (7:40 am) : 

I took a year of Spanish when I was in High School. I found it interesting, and was pretty fun. The problem that I have with classes is the probability of you actually retaining the information is very slim. I could tell you a few phrases, and still can remember a few words. Despite what I learned I would never be able to hold a spanish conversation. I think for a person to really learn another language they have to be submersed into it.

The statistic doesn't really bother me because in some ways I feel there are more productive classes they can take. If they really want to learn a specific language or culture...they need to go to that country. What they learn in class will never be fully comprehended. It is a challenge to learn a language, and I don't think it can really be accomplished in a classroom.

Okay...I will get off my soapbox now. Sorry. :)


Blogger Kin said ... (9:28 am) : 

I think it is sad. My step-mother is a languages teacher, qualified in German, French and Hungarian. I studied German til the end of year 10, and spent 3 months on exchange there. Still, 12 years on, I can hardly remember a thing!

I think the incentive really needs to be there. Useful languages (my step-mother's school has just stopped teaching Chinese - but still has french) and kids need a reason to learn it. A girl I went to school with studied German through to year 12, and is now lecturing at a German university.

You also make a good point about how languages aren't rated as highly as sciences, which is also sad - and another debate probably for anonther day *grin*

Oh and from memory OECD are a bunch of developed nations trying to help underdeveloped nations get more developed.


Anonymous Liz said ... (10:18 am) : 

I learned Japanese from year 8 to year 12 as well as HSC French. At that time (1999-2000), my french class had 4 students and my Japanese class 4 kids as well. when you consider that I was the common factor in both classes that meant out of 250 kids in my grade, there were 7 of us studying a language. My incentive for learning French was a trip to New Caledonia for a 'study excursion'. I love learning languages and if I could handle teenagers I would love to teach LOTE. I think it is a shame that it isn't as highly regarded academically as the sciences (I feel strongly about the science/humanities debate too). Also, when I investigated becoming a LOTE teacher, there were only a few unis in NSW that have teaching courses in LOTE. Australia is very weak in the learning of languages, and for a multicultural society that is surprising and disappointing.


Blogger mcewen said ... (10:24 am) : 

Hmm - wonder what they are in the UK or in the States for that matter. Since we're in the States we should probably learn Spanish since it's almost the second language.
When I was at school I studied French, German [more of less compulsory] because I was a weak student I had the joy of doing an additional easy language [Italian] and because I was a weak student I also had to do Latin to help me improve!
I'm still hopeless at all of them. My daughter speaks and writes Chinese but she took that up later in life. Now she's learning Portuguese which is kind of compulsory since she's working in Mozambique.


Blogger Bryce said ... (10:36 am) : 

It's vous :)

When I was doing French in high school I found it helped me better with writing stuff in English because when you learn another language you learn all about the other language's grammar, sentence structure and verb conjugation - stuff you don't really learn about your own language.


Blogger Kin said ... (10:55 am) : 

That's very true Bryce. I learnt more about English grammar in German class than I ever did in English


Blogger Miscellaneous-Mum said ... (12:35 pm) : 

Bryce - yes, another point that I was going to make, and I forgot, and it's one of my biggest 'bones' - that we often learn more about grammar in foreign languages than our own. I will pick that up in another post of mine! Stay tuned!

Thanks all for your interesting - and diverse - comments. It's days like these when we get a discussion going that I am reminded why I keep this blog going :) :)


Blogger Tracey said ... (12:39 pm) : 

I agree Bryce!
As someone whose high school strengths were languages (Indonesian - I did 3 Unit), and then an introductory French in just Yr 11 & 12 - where I got top of the state, thankyouverymuch, I am really disappointed in the lack of foreign language study being offered at high school - well, certainly my daughter's high school. MM's statistics bear that out.

Some 30-odd years ago, in Year 7, I got to try Indonesian, French, German and Latin! and then in Yrs 8, 9 and 10 in my school there were 2 Indo classes, 1 French and 1 German..
(I went on to go to Indonesia as an exchange student, but then I threw all my language study out.. oh how I wish I'd decided to become a teacher, but I'm a bit like Liz - don't think I could handle teenagers and back then I also didn't think I could cope with trying to teach languages to kids who were stupid! (Yes!- there were kids in my classes that just did NOT get it.)

My daughter in Year 7 did Japanese. (The teacher was a bit of a dipstick, so absolutely noone chose to do Japanese in Yr 8.)
Apparently they alternate years.. the following year's Year 7 did French. A lucky dip it seems. In another 10 years I am wondering if there will be any foreign languages taught.

Perhaps I should go and do my Dip Ed and try to teach languages.. but I don't know that I have it in me!

(Oh yes, and even back in 1979 when I did my HSC, where I had dropped sciences and concentrated on languages, it was generally considered to be a soft option.. so my very good HSC mark wasn't really rated amongst my peers as highly as others who did sciences.)


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