Learning an Asian language in Australia is on the rise.
At Brentwood Park Primary School in Melbourne, the school menu includes Chinese dumplings. This is almost incongruent, if not for the fact that the school has been offering Chinese language lessons for two years now. They also include moon cake and dumpling making in their lessons.
Brentwood Park is among the Victorian schools funded by the government that are teaching Chinese to their elementary school students. From an enrollment of about 15,000 in 2007, the number of students taking Chinese lessons in 2014 has increased to 52,000. The school’s decision to offer Chinese language lessons is in response to the call of the Victorian government to have students in the state from Prep to Year 10 learn a second language by year 2025. Some Victorian government schools also offer Indonesian and Japanese, although the enrolment is not increasing. Overall, there are 70,000 students in the three government schools in Victoria that are learning at least one Asian language.
Asia Education Foundation (AEF)
The Australian federal government provides funds to the Asia Education Foundation for the promotion of Asian literacy in schools in Australia and though it is not common for the country to encourage learning a second language, schools in Victoria stand out. They do not only support the initiative but actually embrace it, according to Kathe Kirby, the AEF executive director.
Long hours of study
Learning an Asian language takes long hours of study. According to Ms. Kirby, to be fluent in Chinese, a student must devote about 2,500 hours of study. On the other hand, it would only take about 660 hours to be fluent in French. She said that they are pushing toward the right direction, and allowing the students to have adequate time to learn Chinese.
One of the initiatives is their program called Young Leaders to China in their effort to promote the study of the Chinese language. It is a program funded by the Victorian government where Year 9 students are sent to China to study the language for six weeks. So far they have already sent 215 students. Their program gives these young students an immersive experience and provides them the chance to have their language learning progress more rapidly. They also get a deeper understanding of the objective of learning a foreign language.
Students who have already gone to China under the program said that the experience gave them a great boost in their language learning and allowed them to know the Chinese culture first hand.
While the interest is there at the lower levels, some students are reluctant to continue their Chinese language study up to the VCE or the Victorian Certificate of Education, the credential awarded to Year 11 and 12 students who have successfully completed their high school level studies. They believe that they cannot compete with the native speakers, those students in Year 12 who have been speaking Chinese since they were children. Ms. Kirby estimates that about 85 percent of the students taking VCE Chinese as a second language are native speakers.