New languages needed at Australasian schools

When I was at school, the languages offered were French, Japanese, Latin, Maori, and, later, Spanish. 13-year-olds were made to study one or two languages for their first year at high school, and after that language study was optional. It wasn’t until after I had graduated that Mandarin Chinese was offered at my high school. My younger siblings took it for a while, and I sincerely wish I had had the opportunity to (even though inevitably I would have found it difficult and would have wanted to quit).

The attitude towards language learning when I was growing up was that we didn’t need any other language besides English. New Zealand was so far away from other countries that we didn’t really have a ‘most important’ foreign language to learn. We didn’t need any of them to get by (I assume there was a similar feeling in Australia too).

These days, with so much reliance on international trade, people would be foolish to hide behind the geographic distance shield. Asian languages especially are going to become much more important for Aussies and Kiwis to learn. We are drifting further away from reliance on the traditional school languages – French, German, Latin – and Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and many other languages will prove to be relevant, if not crucial, to students in the future.

I hope that see a change in the languages offered at schools in Australasia, but I have a feeling that these things, as always, may take a little bit too long. In the meantime, I hope there will be more university and adult language students enrolling in ‘alternative’ language courses.

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