Language learning

The Benefits of Language Learning

Teachers of mathematics and science in Australian schools rarely if ever find themselves in the position of having to justify the place of their discipline in students’ education; for teachers of LOTE, however, there appears to be an ongoing need to advocate for the importance and benefits of languages study to the overall education of students.
In this regard there are many parallels with other countries in which English is the principal language, including the USA and the UK, both of which continue to produce reviews and reports lamenting the lack of recognition for the benefits of language learning, the low status of language study, the poor uptake amongst secondary and tertiary students and the lack of recognition of the importance of language skills amongst business leaders. These studies include the Nuffield Languages Inquiry (1998−2000) in the UK (The Nuffield Foundation 2000) and Looking Beyond Borders: the importance of foreign area and language studies 2005 in the USA (National Association of State Boards of Education 2005). Writing in the US context about languages in the elementary (primary) school, Curtain and Dahlberg (2004, p. 395) note:
Every skill and outcome that is important to society is introduced through the elementary school curriculum. The lists of curriculum requirements in almost every state attest to the importance of reading, math, social studies, science, music, art and physical education. The introduction of computers into nearly every elementary school program clearly reflects the values of our electronic, information age. Not until world languages become a secure part of the elementary school curriculum will language learning begin to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century.
In Europe, however, languages have long been a fundamental and accepted part of educational programs. With the continued expansion of the European Union, European language policies are moving towards the teaching of ‘at least two foreign languages from a very early age’, a component of the curriculum considered ‘basic skills’ (Euridyce 2005). In Finland, all students in Year 12 study English and Swedish in addition to Finnish, with more than 40 per cent also taking German; in the Netherlands, 99 per cent of students take English in addition to Dutch at Year 12 level, and 41 per cent also take German and 21 per cent French (Clyne 2005, p. 24). Amongst the countries where English is the majority language, there appears to be a pervasive complacency that ‘English is enough’, combined with a lack of real awareness of and appreciation for the insights and understandings accruing from language learning. According to Clyne (2005, p. xi), these are manifestations of what can be regarded as ‘a monolingual mindset’ which views English monolingualism as the norm, despite the fact that there are many more bilinguals and multilinguals in the world than there are monolinguals−particularly English monolinguals as according to a report by the National Centre for Languages in the UK, only six per cent of the world’s population are native English speakers; 75 per cent speak no English at all (CiLT 2005, p. 4).

Teachers of mathematics and science in Australian schools rarely if ever find themselves in the position of having to justify the place of their discipline in students’ education; for teachers of LOTE, however, there appears to be an ongoing need to advocate for the importance and benefits of languages study to the overall education of students. In this regard there are many parallels with other countries in which English is the principal language, including the USA and the UK, both of which continue to produce reviews and reports lamenting the lack of recognition for the benefits of language learning, the low status of language study, the poor uptake amongst secondary and tertiary students and the lack of recognition of the importance of language skills amongst business leaders.

These studies include the Nuffield Languages Inquiry (1998−2000) in the UK (The Nuffield Foundation 2000) and Looking Beyond Borders: the importance of foreign area and language studies 2005 in the USA (National Association of State Boards of Education 2005). Writing in the US context about languages in the elementary (primary) school, Curtain and Dahlberg (2004, p. 395) note:Every skill and outcome that is important to society is introduced through the elementary school curriculum. The lists of curriculum requirements in almost every state attest to the importance of reading, math, social studies, science, music, art and physical education.

The introduction of computers into nearly every elementary school program clearly reflects the values of our electronic, information age. Not until world languages become a secure part of the elementary school curriculum will language learning begin to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. In Europe, however, languages have long been a fundamental and accepted part of educational programs. With the continued expansion of the European Union, European language policies are moving towards the teaching of ‘at least two foreign languages from a very early age’, a component of the curriculum considered ‘basic skills’ (Euridyce 2005). In Finland, all students in Year 12 study English and Swedish in addition to Finnish, with more than 40 per cent also taking German; in the Netherlands, 99 per cent of students take English in addition to Dutch at Year 12 level, and 41 per cent also take German and 21 per cent French (Clyne 2005, p. 24). Amongst the countries where English is the majority language, there appears to be a pervasive complacency that ‘English is enough’, combined with a lack of real awareness of and appreciation for the insights and understandings accruing from language learning. According to Clyne (2005, p. xi), these are manifestations of what can be regarded as ‘a monolingual mindset’ which views English monolingualism as the norm, despite the fact that there are many more bilinguals and multilinguals in the world than there are monolinguals−particularly English monolinguals as according to a report by the National Centre for Languages in the UK, only six per cent of the world’s population are native English speakers; 75 per cent speak no English at all (CiLT 2005, p. 4)…

Read the rest of this comprehensive and informative report by the Victorian Government titled “Teach and Learning Languages Other than English (LOTE) in Victorian Schools here.