ACT News

Students drawn to study Mandarin and Japanese

Japanese and Chinese languages remain among the most popular studied at the Australian National University following increased enrolments in beginner courses and a renewed focus on the strategic importance of the two nations. 

Dr Mark Strange, head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the ANU, said the interest in the languages reflected both the geopolitical and economic importance of China and Japan, which had not been lost on students. 

"We have experienced a bump in the number of students taking beginner programs in Chinese and Japanese languages but overall the number of enrolled students has remained stable since about 2010," he said.

Mr Strange said Chinese languages now accounted for about 36 per cent of those studied in the department, with Japanese at 34 per cent and Korean 9 per cent.

"As for enrolments in first-year courses, where you tend to see the greatest fluctuations, Chinese and Japanese now average between 60 to 100 students in one subject at a single time," he said.

Mr Strange said the importance placed on studying Asian languages was definitely a factor in strong enrolments although many students had their own distinct reasons for studying Chinese or Japanese languages.


"A lot of students seem to come to us with a general cultural interest in Japan, with the popularity of manga and anime for instance, but that's less so for China so I suspect the popularity is due to recognition of the nation's economic importance," he said.  

Professor Catherine Travis, head of the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, said Mandarin and Japanese had now joined Spanish and French as the most popular languages studied by students at the university.

"The number of students who choose to study a language has been pretty stable across the university over the past five years," she said.

"Language remains a core part of an ANU education, and languages are recognised as priority areas at ANU."

Mr Strange said the numbers of students studying Chinese and Japanese languages may have been influenced by the University of Canberra's decision to stop teaching languages, although this would not explain strong enrolments prior to 2013.

A University of Canberra spokeswoman said the university had not offered language courses to students since May 2013.

"The university entered into a reciprocal arrangement with the Australian National University whereby University of Canberra students may undertake language study at ANU," she said.

The spokeswoman said ANU students would still be able to study the University of Canberra's Graduate Diploma in TESOL and Foreign Language Teaching, a course the ANU does not have.

"This arrangement allows us to continue to offer elective majors in languages to our students, at the same cost to students, a few minutes away and to a very high standard, with greater choice," she said. 

Mr Strange said his faculty were pleased with the strong performance of Japanese and Chinese language courses although stressed less popular courses such as Sanskrit, Pacific Pidgins, and Australian indigenous languages should also be recognised.

"It's very positive news that our numbers are holding firm in these languages and I hope the ANU will continue to prioritiseAsian languages," he said.