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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Teaching and learning Languages Other Than English (LOTE) in Victorian schools

Sandra Mahar
Research Manager, Education Policy and Research Division, DEECD

The following article has been provided by the Education Policy and Research Division, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Victoria. The article summarises the recent DEECD report Teaching and Learning Languages Other Than English (LOTE) in Victorian Schools, featured in DEECD’s Research eLert Newsletter, Issue No 15.

 

UNESCO has declared 2008 as the International Year of Languages and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has produced a timely research report on teaching and learning Languages Other Than English (LOTE) in Victorian schools.

The report engages with the current debate in the media regarding the merits of language learning in schools and points out that Victoria has the greatest number of students learning LOTE, with 20.2% of students who complete Year 12 studying a language compared to 12.8% in New South Wales and 5.9% in Queensland. The report also highlights the complex range of issues associated with teaching LOTE, including teacher availability, continuity in learning and the choice of languages to be taught.  

The importance of LOTE is discussed from a global perspective, drawing attention to the long term economic and employment benefits likely to accrue to those who learn a language other than English. It explores the benefits of language learning in the context of various local and national issues. Perspectives are given on how LOTE learning enriches learners intellectually, educationally and culturally, enables communication across cultures and enhances employment and career prospects for individuals. 

In the 1980s, Victorian education policies expressed a strong commitment to LOTE programs for all students from Prep to Year 12 in Government schools. Although teaching of LOTE at the lower level of primary schools has gradually declined in recent years, upper primary teaching has remained stable.

The report draws on a broad body of research that suggests learning another language enhances understanding of, and insights into, one’s own language. It presents various studies that demonstrate how a child’s meta-linguistic awareness is enhanced through language learning. The research includes a local study undertaken in two Victorian primary schools which found that students involved in LOTE programs demonstrated higher levels of ‘word awareness’, a skill linked to reading readiness, than those who did not participate in LOTE programs.

The findings of further studies exploring bilingual issues indicate that bilingual children appear to develop a more analytical orientation to language and appear to have an advantage over other children when performing particular tasks. Further key research demonstrates the ability of bilingual children to separate the sound of a word from its meaning at a significantly earlier age than their monolingual counterparts.

The report queries the reduction of LOTE programs in early primary school in light of such findings. It contends that learning a second language will enhance and enrich the language experience of all children.

The report emphasises the importance of LOTE programs in promoting and valuing all languages and cultures, which is demonstrated not only by the research but also by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). The rationale for LOTE programs presented through VELS includes the development of communication skills, and knowledge that will assist students in a broad sense to understand language, culture and humanity, thus contributing to the development of interculturally aware citizens. It further explores this notion from an intercultural language teaching and learning perspective.

The issues now facing English-speaking nations set a global context for the report. Research and key international reports suggest that English is not the only ‘big’ language in the world, and that the position of English as a global language is in the care of multilingual speakers. The report notes the complacency in English-speaking countries in relation to learning languages, together with significant company losses due to lack of basic proficiency in languages other than English. Of particular note was an estimated loss of two billion dollars a year for American companies due to what is described as inadequate cross-cultural guidance for their employees in multicultural situations.

The final section of the report reviews literature on LOTE teaching and learning over a 30-year period. This section aims to provide a context for understanding current issues and perspectives on what constitutes best practice. It provides background information on traditional, grammar-translation methods of language learning together with current, preferred approaches to second language teaching. Communicative language teaching (CLT) is described as a broad approach which comprises a set of beliefs and principles that guide language teaching decisions. As the preferred approach in most parts of the world, CLT is said to engage the learner in meaning-focused, interactive communicative activities. In this context, language is seen as a powerful tool for purposeful communication. The role of grammar in a CLT approach is presented within a contemporary pedagogical approach, in which it is seen as serving the needs of communication rather than as a set of rules to be memorised.

As the media continues to report on various government and academic views of LOTE learning, this report provides some historical perspectives and echoes the need to consider the potential long term social, economic and employment benefits which are likely to accrue to those who learn a language other than English.

Key Learning Areas

Languages

Subject Headings

Languages other than English (LOTE)
Teaching and learning
Victoria