I’m not Australian, nor do I live in Australia, but I avidly follow a blog written by a young American woman named Jennie who is doing her PhD in an Australian university. She has a great post up today about “Australia in the Asian Century” that has really interesting thoughts on language learning, especially in regard to the government policy of promoting Asian languages.
Australia is not the only country to promote Asian languages. If I remember correctly, Sweden recently made Mandarin Chinese compulsory in schools. In the United States, Mandarin Chinese programs have grown exponentially in the last decade. (Even my high school is offering Mandarin Chinese now, though luckily it’s not compulsory.) The most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that the Chinese government has been a major force behind the push – if you haven’t heard of Confucius Institutes, I strongly recommend searching the internet (Wikipedia has a substantial article about them).
Getting back to Jennie’s post, this part especially resonated with me:
So while I am happy that the government encourages language learning, I feel that focusing on Asian languages only is not necessarily the way to go about it. There are many other languages spoken in Australia, and students have many reasons for learning foreign languages, which include living abroad.
I fully agree. While there is nothing wrong with learning an Asian language if you want to, it is important to recognize that there are other important languages in the world, too. French is a world language – it’s widely spoken in Africa. And Spanish will help you travel and work in South America, if that’s where your interests lie.
Jennie also rightfully points out that motivation is the most important trait a language learner must possess. Without motivation, you’re not going to successfully learn the language. That’s the main reason I oppose making Mandarin Chinese compulsory – it is so difficult that if you’re not motivated, you can spend years studying it in school and not actually know anything at the end of your schooling. Thus that time learning was wasted. Admittedly I was not that motivated when I took Spanish class in school, but since it’s an easier language, I actually learned quite a bit and have a decent foundation in the language.