Thursday, 7 June 2007

No Return to Compulsion? Lack of Foreign Languages Skills in Australia

One of the main messages from The Languages Review published in March 2007
was that there would be no return to compulsory study of modern foreign languages, unless the incentives put into place to encourage schools to increase their foreign languages uptake at KS4 proved to be ineffective.

It is therefore interesting to see that other English-speaking countries are afflicted by a lack of foreign languages skills in their workforce.

Australia's top universities are calling for a foreign language subject to be compulsory for all school students. Less than 6 per cent of year 12 students graduate with a second language in some states, and the number of university language courses has halved in the past decade.

The Group of Eight universities has described the situation as a crisis, saying language skills are needed for business and national security.

Group spokeswoman Professor Anne Pauwels says the entire education sector needs to take action.
"What we are advocating in order to maintain a global advantage is that all students are exposed to the learning of a language from primary right through to year 10," she said.,20867,21834703-2702,00.html

The Group of Eight, consisting of research-intensive institutions such as Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland universities, say the number of foreign languages taught at the tertiary level has almost halved, from 66 to 29, in the past 10 years. "Crisis is not too strong a word to describe the decline in foreign language education in our schools and universities," Group of Eight executive director Michael Gallagher said.
"Despite many positive efforts from committed teachers and language experts, the percentage of Year12 students graduating with a second language has fallen from 40per cent in the 1960s to as low as 6per cent in some states in Australia today."
He called for a national approach involving schools, universities and state and federal governments. "Our national deficit in foreign-language capability is something we can no longer afford to ignore," he said. "It is Australia's great unrecognised skills shortage, and the one most directly relevant to our competitiveness and security in an increasingly global environment."

The article at,23739,21859394-27197,00.html
also highlights issues about mfl teacher recruitment that reminds us of the situation in England pre-2004

“In Queensland as in other states, the chronic shortage of foreign language teachers will be a major stumbling block in overcoming the problem and, unfortunately, this week's State Budget did nothing to address the issue.
All schools have trouble filling language teachers' jobs and independent schools regularly have to look interstate to fill jobs.”

“British business has the worst language skills in Europe, with companies losing millions of pounds every year because employees cannot speak their customers' languages. While other European countries treat high-level competence in English and other languages as a basic skill, the number of British linguists in the sixth form has dropped dramatically. Nine out of 10 stop learning languages at 16, university language departments are contracting or even closing, and there is a critical shortage of language teachers”.

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