Response to Kipp and Clyne (1998): Three Important Languages That Should Not Be Neglected

This post is from a course that I took. I had to make blog posts for the course and I decided to move the posts over here when the course finished.

Kipp, S., & Clyne, M. (1998). Three important languages that should not be neglected by the education system. Australian Language Matters, 6(3), 5-6.

My primary experiences of LOTE learning come from my time in Canada and Japan.

In Canada, French and English are mandatory up until a certain grade (depending on the province). English and French are the two national languages in Canada, so their inclusion in the curriculum is not a surprise. Some schools will also teach other languages such as Spanish, German, Chinese, or Japanese, but the majority of Canadians will choose to study (or be required to study) French or English as their second language.

In Japan, English is studied in junior high school and high school, almost without exception. The opportunity to study a different foreign language is rarely presented before university. The choice of English as the foreign language that is supported by the curriculum is likely predominantly politically and economically motivated. It is my understanding that there is little debate about including other languages in the curriculum.

Because of this, I was interested to read this article about the idea of including Arabic, Spanish, and Vietnamese in Australian curricula. The justification for the inclusion of these languages is based on the fact that they are present in Australian communities. This is not an argument that I am familiar with and, to be honest, it kind of took me by surprise. I think there is a prevailing ideology in many English-speaking countries that the immigrants should learn English. This is the first time for me to encounter the flipped idea that we should base our curriculum choices on immigrant languages that are present in the community, rather than on more politically or economically motivated reasons. (To be clear, I’m not opposed to the idea, I just had never really thought about it in that way.)

The article concludes that these three languages are important international languages and that Australia would be well-served by increasing the populations of speakers of these languages. That is certainly true, but I wonder how appealing these languages are to the average Australian student. I can see Arabic and Spanish posing some appeal due to the fact that they are used in a number of countries throughout the world, but Vietnamese would seem to be slightly less appealing in that regard, since it is only spoken in Vietnam.

As an aside, an endonymic map has been published where each country’s name is written in the predominant language of that country. In the four corners of the map, the publisher has chosen to include four inset maps showing the English-, French-, Spanish-, and Arabic-speaking worlds. Due to their broad use throughout the world, these four languages should certainly be given priority in curricula, in my opinion. It is my guess that this kind of thinking is what has traditionally motivated countries to choose the languages they offer in schools; therefore, it is quite interesting to me to consider the very forward-thinking idea of offering languages based on immigration patterns instead.

Questions from the Study Guide

Do you believe that community languages should be reflected in school learning above others?
No, I guess I don’t. While it may be expedient to learn the languages in the community because of the abundance of teachers that would presumably be in the area, that cannot be the only reason why a particular language is taught in a school. I think that it is okay to consider political and economic reasons for language learning. In particular, in the case of Vietnamese, I am not sure that students could be motivated enough to learn a language that has cannot be used outside of Vietnam. That said, if Vietnamese was taught “properly”, with the correct amount of cultural learning that is advocated in this subject, then it could do a lot to help the Vietnamese immigrants be more understood in their communities. The learning environment could also be significantly enhanced by the presence of a number of native speakers in the classroom.

What arguments would you raise with Kirkpatrick or his detractors about his favouring Indonesian above other Asian languages?
Indonesian may be easier than some of the other Asian languages, and there may be many people who speak it, but I don’t think that justifies giving it an advantage over other languages. I agree that learning one language does provide the foundation for learning others, but I am not convinced that the fact that Indonesian is easy provides enough of a reason to favour it over other languages. Japanese is not easy, but it is a very interesting language, and while the writing system is, indeed, complicated, the grammar is not overly difficult. Both Japanese and Indonesian can only be used in one country, though, so they share that disadvantage.

How would you justify teaching your particular LOTE to a meeting of parents and students at your school? What would you promise the students as outcomes of their learning?
I think that Japanese is an easy sell. It is clearly useful in an economic sense, even if students never leave Australia, since it is a major trading partner with Australia. It has a certain amount of cultural appeal to students because of manga, anime, and martial arts. Learning Japanese can serve as a gateway to learning Chinese. Japanese is not a tonal language, and most of the phonemes of Japanese are included in English, so it is not a difficult language to pronounce.

In addition to the inherent benefits of learning any language, there are many outcomes that can be promised to learners of Japanese. It is is quite a logical language in terms of its linguistic properties, so students can learn about logic and structure through the study of Japanese. They can also develop their artistic abilities and stretch their brain’s capacity by learning kanji.