Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 13 February 2008) . . Page.. 132 ..
MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.02): I am glad to see this sudden interest in the Legislative Assembly in language teaching—we have two motions today, back to back, which relate to language teaching and learning and the impact that that has in the ACT.
I congratulate Ms Porter on bringing forward this motion because the way that we learn languages is partly a reflection of the way we value diversity in our society. Australia, for a very long time, had a very strong history and record in support of language learning. At the turn of the last century, before the First World War, Australia had, per capita, more bilingual schools than probably any other country in the world. There were bilingual German, French and Italian schools. These schools were not just attended by those people affiliated with a particular ethnic group; they were mainstream schools supported by the community through public subscription or through support from the colonial governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
At about the time of the First World War, those schools went into decline; some of them because they were German bilingual schools, and German became extraordinarily unfashionable at the time—which was, I suppose, understandable, given the mores of the time. We never again saw the resurrection of bilingual schools, and we have gradually seen, despite our history of migration, the propensity for Australians to become monolingual.
Perhaps it is partly because of the arrogance of the English speaker across the world—and we see this in our travels. English speakers tend to assume that English is what used to be called the lingua franca—but it is not the lingua franca anymore—and that it is the most common language used for business and communications. The attitude is that those people who do not speak English should damn well learn to do so fairly soon.
We see the propensity for English-speaking tourists visiting foreign countries to fail to appreciate the culture and to speak to people very slowly and quite loudly, with the expectation that if they do that for long enough the non-English speaker will understand them. This is a malaise of the Australian society as a whole which has become more so over the years. This has been reflected in a decline in the teaching of language.
It is ironic that, at a time when we have seen, especially in the post World War II period, an influx of people from non-English-speaking countries, we have seen a decline in language teaching in schools, especially since the mid-1960s. Once upon a time, if one wished to enter university in this country, one had to learn Latin, at the very least, and probably one other language, and one could not get into university without those skills. For a variety of public policy reasons, both good and bad, that has been set aside. The result now is that it is quite possible to start school anywhere in Australia and go through without having any exposure to a language other than English. I think this makes us a poorer nation.
Members would not be surprised to hear that language teaching is one of my passions. I did train as a language teacher, although I did not practise in the art for very long. It