Date: May 13 2012
TONY ABBOTT'S thought bubble about the need for more study of foreign languages, particularly Asian languages, is a good one, but I doubt there will be much progress on it, even after he is elected.
If we really want monolingual Australian schoolchildren to really* learn a language other than English, it would probably be best to forget about formal instruction in the particular language. One should instead teach an ordinary subject in that language. One could, for example, study science in Mandarin, religion in Arabic, history in Korean, and mathematics in Hindi. And, perhaps, philosophy in Spanish, rhetoric in French, dance in Russian, and gymnastics in German. Most Western European kids, and most Central Australian Aboriginal kids, seem to be able to manage three or four languages at a time.
This would be character-forming for our monoglots and probably also improve our command of English. It is commonly remarked that one learns English grammar properly only by the study of another language, with Latin being perhaps the ideal one.
A good many Australian children can and do already speak languages other than English. On Friday a radio pontificator declared, judiciously, that if we were going to do the Asian language thing properly, we should confine ourselves to a manageable number of languages. He resolved that this should be four, and that these should be Bahasa, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. I cannot see why he so lightly tossed out all of the languages of Indochina, the Indian sub-continent and the Hindu Kush; there are, by now, as many Australians already speaking those languages as there are Australians speaking the ones he would ration us to. Some of these would like to study their language, if possible, in Australian schools.
It is sometimes hinted that such children have an unnatural and unfair advantage over those who are not native speakers, and that we must thus have two streams of teaching the language and gauging progress in it. (Similarly, those few universities worthy of the name where classical Latin and Greek are still taught must now have streams for those who did it at high school and those who didn't and who want to get up to the proficiency that, once, a good many in the academic high school streams had by age 14.)
The big objection to my proposal is that there are too few teachers capable of teaching a subject in a foreign language. Until that problem was resolved I would import them, both as migrants and visitors. Not only do teachers make great citizens, but importing teachers from third world countries is not quite as exploitative as looting their best doctors, engineers and IT specialists.
*Note to pedants: That was a deliberately split infinitive: ''really to know'', ''to really know'' and ''to know really'' have different meanings. There has never been a rule against split infinitives anyway.
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