Today I would like you to take away
with you the following
Promoting language study in
primary schools: Primary classroom teachers form a significant
group of school community that can be
mobilised to support language programs in
Mainstream teacher attitudes as a factor in There is a range of things that can be done in
success of language programs this direction.
Some are school-based, very practical and
Marina Houston could be implemented almost immediately.
University of Canberra Some are system-related, and could be
viewed as ‘medium-term’ strategies.
Dialogue, Discourse, Diversity And finally, there are ways to go which are
AFMLTA Sydney 9th -12th July 2009 really long-term in human terms – may
involve several generations.
Distinct features of my study
Crozet, C. (2008) ‘Australia’s Linguistic Culture and Its Impact on 1. The focus on primary teachers
Languages Education’ in Babel, Vol 42 Number 3 April 2008,
pp. 19-23. 2. The ACT educational context / attitude to language /
Liddicoat, A., Scarino, A., Curnow, T. J., Kohler, M., Scrimegour, specific languages
A. & Morgan, A.-M. (2007) Report ‘An Investigation of the
State and Nature of languages in Australian Schools’. METHOD
University of South Australia (October 2007)
‘Attitudes Towards Study of languages in Australian Schools’ Total of 19 primary teachers contributed their
(2007) A Report for the Australian Council of State Schools opinions (through survey or interview or both)
Organisations and the Australian Parents Council based on 15 classroom teachers returned the survey
research conducted by Solved at McConchie Pty Ltd (March 6 primary teachers were interviewed:
Lo Bianco, J. & Aliani, R. (2008) ‘Executive Summary and • 2 language teachers , 3 classroom teachers and 1
Recommendations’ (‘The Centre of Excellence in LOTE Study’). classroom teacher who also teachers a language
University of Melbourne. (May 2008) (European)
‘Review of the Commonwealth LOTE Programme’. Erbus • 30-50 minutes per interview
Consulting Partners. (December 2002) • One teacher wanted to be interviewed more than
Scott, M. (2009) ‘Cinderella takes action: A local initiative to once
promote languages’ in Babel, Vol 43 Number 3 May 2009, pp.
32-35. • Most data collected in the first half of 2009
My study and its limitations My informants
This is a pilot study.
A small sample, which would allow us to map out ACT Primary school teachers (18 from state schools
themes and a range of opinions. and 1 from an independent school, with many years
of experience working in the government sector)
The participants were all voluntary. So it is very Length of teaching – from 6 months to 43 years
likely that these are the people who cared in some Length of being in the current school – from 6
way about the situation with languages. months to 6 years
The people for interviews were chosen as those who Teaching grades: Preschool through Year 6
I thought were likely to be prepared to give their Only one respondent said that his/her school did not
time. 5 out of 6 teachers were the people I had met offer a language.
before, and I knew they had an interest in
education. The 6th teacher was recommended by a The majority were in a school with an Asian
3rd party, and it was my one and only meeting with language (this was accidental; the original plan was
that teacher. to survey equal numbers of teachers from schools
offering a European and an Asian language).
14 teachers came from Anglo-Celtic (English-
The opinions presented may be opinions of the speaking) backgrounds and 5 had another language
people who were to an extent interested in the spoken in the family when they were young.
issue. No comment can be made on the opinions of
the people who did not wish to share them. At present, 16 teachers spoke only English at home,
and 3 spoke English and another language.
Languages in the ACT 4.3 Preschool to year 6 requirements
4.3.3 Schools have flexibility in how they
‘Every chance to learn: Curriculum implement their curriculum plans and
framework for ACT schools deliver their teaching and learning
programs, provided that:
preschool to year 10’ (2007)
(The information available on the ACT Each year, from year 3 to year 6, schools
DET website) provide students with a minimum of 60
minutes per week of languages education
in one of the eight priority languages –
[There is also a ‘Languages support French, German, Italian, Spanish,
Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin
plan (2008 - 2010)’ ] and Korean
4.4 Years 7 to 10 requirements Languages in the ACT government
4.4.3 Schools have flexibility in how they
implement their curriculum plans and A 3-year plan of introducing languages programs
deliver their teaching and learning across the schools in ACT (2008-2010)
programs, provided that: Primary Schools, High Schools and Colleges
The DET has acknowledged that there needs to be
continuity in language offering movement
In years 7 and 8, schools provide students between sectors, and appears to be working on
with a minimum of 150 minutes (or one organising ‘clusters’ of primary schools feeding
into high school.
line) per week of languages education in
The DET particularly supports languages
one of the eight priority languages - education in one of the eight priority languages –
French, German, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian,
Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin Japanese, Chinese/Mandarin and Korean.
Languages distribution in the ACT Issues perceived by languages
government schools teachers
Teaching language in a school is hard work
At college (years 11-12) level, most ‘popular’
languages are French, Japanese and Chinese. At
present there is only one school in ACT – a college
where Korean and Hindi are is offered in Years 11 and
At high school level, the languages offered are mostly
French, Indonesian and Japanese. 2 high schools offer
Chinese, 2 high schools offer German, 2 – Italian, and
2 high schools offer Spanish.
At primary level, Japanese is offered in 16 schools,
followed by Indonesian – 10, and French – 7.
At end of 2008, there were 12 primary schools where
language was not being offered.
The plan is to continue introducing languages this year
A special language classroom in the school
Feeling different and isolated
Language teachers often feel different and /
The language teachers commented or isolated in their school.
exceptionally positively on situations over Language teachers state that they always
their teaching time when they had a special have to prove something to colleagues and
language room. parents / justify the existence of the
language program in the school.
All acknowledged that having to run from The isolation is felt by most language
classroom to classroom was not ideal. teachers, and particularly by teachers
from Asian backgrounds.
Only a minority of the teachers surveyed (7)
said that there is a language classroom in
their school; out of these 7, 6 are in one
and the same school and 1 teacher is in a
Being of a different cultural background First generation Asian teachers’
teaching style and need for help
An issue that some language teachers face Language teachers from Asian backgrounds
is being from a different cultural acknowledge that they may not be fully familiar with
background, especially from a different the teaching style that Australian children are used
ethnic / racial background. to.
They speak about their need for support from other
staff in this area.
Some Asian background teachers commented
on the attitude of the school staff to them
and / or to other colleagues from Asian
Attitudes of the school community Classroom teachers’ attitudes towards
languages: explicit and implicit
An issue raised by all the interviewed
language teachers has been that of Classroom teachers’ attitudes towards
attitudes of the school community. languages can be both explicit and
The Liddicoat report (Oct 2007) acknowledges They can explicitly state that the
that the success of language programs language class is a pretty useless thing
depends on the attitudes of the school that is just a waste of time for many
According to Lo Bianco & Aliani (2008, p. 5),
LOTE teachers mentioned ‘the importance However, more commonly, classroom
of supportive attitudes and the fact that teachers’ attitudes are implicit.
schools, local community and parents
needed to make a clear show of support for
LOTE and value it as a subject.’
Findings and discussion
A language teacher:
Language teachers who I spoke with
strongly supported the thesis: According to this teacher, what
The success of language programs classroom teachers think about
depends to a large extent on the
attitude of the mainstream teachers. language is extremely important.
Report (March 2007, p. 23):
‘A number of language teachers said that The attitudes of classroom
other teachers in their schools are also teachers are important.
reflective of an unsupportive community
The report notes the lack of any ‘plan to
address the complex set of societal and
attitudinal factors which combine to
constrain this curriculum area.’
A classroom teacher Can a classroom teacher make a
(also a language teacher) difference?
Language teachers believe that
The teacher argues that for most children the
attitude comes from home. definitely ‘yes’.
This teacher shows awareness that she,
as a classroom teacher, can shift
Pedagogy The Report (March 2007) notices the mismatch that
often happens between the pedagogy of teaching
English and teaching LOTEs.
A classroom / language teacher commented about It asks if the language teachers are making the
the importance of the link between literacy in
English and learning other languages: necessary classroom links, and if the can make
The language teaching pedagogy and the English
teaching pedagogy need to be similar. This way
students will respond better to the language classes. The report recommends:
‘The correlation between literacy in English and
A language teacher also brought up the issue of learning other languages needs to be made
pedagogy, saying that when the two were
congruent, there was a higher likelihood of the explicit. Language teachers and English teachers
success of the language program. should ensure that the pedagogy used in English
She also acknowledged that this is one of the areas of is consistent with, or at least overlaps with the
the challenges for overseas trained teachers, pedagogy used in language classes.’
particularly the teachers of Asian languages. (Report March 2007, p. 26)
The March 2007 Report (P. 47) notes that many
A language for students of below ‘stakeholders’, do not support ‘compulsion’ of
average English performance language for all students.
If a student is below average in his/her About 20% of principals and language advisors are
English language performance, should against compulsory language for students who
he/she be in a compulsory language struggle with English. The Study did not survey
program? Why? Why not? Many surveyed parents state ‘teach English first’.
My respondents were split on this issue, some The Report recommends the level of compulsion of
arguing that such students should still be able to languages be maintained, not to send the wrong
learn a LOTE. messages about language education, but increase
the quality of provision.
The Report cites anecdotal evidence of LD students
However quite a few teachers stated that a LOTE enjoying language classes.
was not appropriate for such students.
Interestingly, most of these teachers seemed to The Lo Bianco & Aliani Report (May 2008, p.7) states
imply that the ‘below average’ performers were that language teachers believed that ‘the elective
students with learning difficulties and/or ESL. nature of the subject … [negatively] impacted on
However other classroom teachers (survey) state
Hours of language per week that they think a ‘good’ language program will have
one or two half-hour classes per week.
Language teachers tend to support increased hours
of language per week (which would be expected). This shows:
Opinions about ‘how much’ language in the
curriculum is needed vary among classroom (1) language classes are still viewed as an
teachers. ‘optional extra’, not something that should
Some teachers recognise that the proposed time of happen regularly / for extended periods of
one hour per week (or the commonly practise times
of 30 minutes per week may not be sufficient for time
language learning. (2) language classes are viewed as something
to be entertaining / approached in terms of
Some classroom teachers (interviews) state that it is the process rather than long-lasting
sometimes better not to have any language than
just once a week for half an hour or even an hour. achievement
This suggests a view of language as not a serious (3) classroom teachers are not aware of how
curriculum area (KLA), an optional extra that languages are learnt – one or two half-hour
can be considered under some circumstances.
But can be easily discarded. sessions per week would not be sufficient
for any substantial language learning
Mainstream and language teachers What would a good language
planning together program look like?
Do the language teachers and mainstream There are three major aspects that
teachers in your school plan together? classroom teachers consider to be
The answers fell roughly equally among ‘never’
(5), ‘rarely’ (3) and ‘sometimes’ (7). important for a good language
Not a single teacher ticked off the ‘often’ box. program:
the language teacher
Do mainstream teachers and language
teachers need to plan / work together? the program
The overwhelming majority of the respondents 12
answered ‘definitely’, 2 teachers answered the adult participants involved
‘maybe’, and only 1 ticked the ‘no’ box.
Do you think that each primary school
should offer language lessons? Findings Summarised
Classroom teachers would like to see a language
Most teachers state that schools program in their school.
should offer language programs; There is not much planning together between
classroom and language teachers. But both groups are
positive about it.
‘yes’ – 12
‘maybe’ – 2 In relation to language for a child with a ‘below
average’ English performance, some classroom
teachers said that such students could actually enjoy a
‘no’ - 1 language program, and learning a language could be
culturally enriching for all.
Many however do not envisage language being
compulsory for all students.
Students with LD and from ESL backgrounds are often
classed as somebody needing extra English tuition, and
thus not suitable for language learning.
Comments about the ‘crowded curriculum’ indicate
that language is viewed as an optional extra. Conclusions
Many classroom teachers viewed the integration This study revealed that language teachers view
of the language curriculum with the mainstream classroom teachers’ attitudes towards language in
one as being crucial for the ‘good’ language the school as being a key factor for the success of
program. the program.
As key elements of a good language program, Classroom teachers see the link between the
many classroom teachers emphasise the quality language and mainstream programs as being
of the language teacher as well as the quality of important. However they do not display much
the language program. awareness of the impact they can potentially have
Many recognise the need for a link between what on the success of the language program.
language teachers and mainstream teachers do. Classroom teachers appear unaware of the
A minority (4) acknowledge an active role that influence that they exert on the students’ and
mainstream teachers can take. their parents’ attitudes towards languages in
Most surveyed classroom teachers support Classroom teachers view language
language learning generally and would like to see a programs largely as something for students
language program in their school. to enjoy / have fun within.
They are not sure if studying a language
should be compulsory for all. The educational value noted is that of
Some teachers seem to be aware of the cultural learning. There is no reference to
value language can have in inter-cultural language competency or being able to use
language for any of the purposes for
Having an opportunity to learn a language
on equity grounds is important to some. which for example English is used.
However knowing somebody who did not The language teacher is expected to be
enjoy the language in school could justify well qualified and passionate about their
not making languages compulsory.
There seems to be lack of awareness of the
cognitive benefits of language learning as The language program should be a
well as its humanistic value (such as ‘quality’ one.
promoting a more just and harmonious
Recommendations At the School Level
At the School Level The ‘whole school’ approach to language / that
which involves support by principal, executive
teachers and classroom teachers can be
The language program needs to be integrated so recommended.
that it is considered a part of the mainstream
Their role as active participants and possibly
In terms of the themes being studied, explicit leaders in a school community in relation to
reference could be made to the language / culture languages could be brought to the attention of
/ country. classroom teachers. They could be promoting
Time and space and opportunities need to be languages in school generally, for example
provided for classroom teachers to plan together. showing their attitude to students, planning with
Time and space and opportunities need to be language teachers, and outside the school –
provided for classroom teachers to be part of communicating with the parents and wider
language classrooms. community.
The focus on training ‘quality’ teachers needs
to continue. Both the DETs and faculties of
education should have a role here.
Teacher training courses need to include
explicit expectations for classroom teachers This study provides support for recommendation of
to know about how the first and second the Report (March 2007):
languages are learnt. Language teachers and English teachers should ensure
that the pedagogy used in English is consistent with,
or at least overlaps with the pedagogy used in
Further education regarding the effects of language classes (p. 26).
additional language learning needs to be
provided. This could dispel the common The implications for teacher education are as
misconception of languages being suitable follows.
for only proficient uses of English. Teacher educators need to develop in our graduates
an awareness of the necessity of linking language
teaching pedagogies across languages.
Further education about the range of For language teachers, explicit teaching about
cognitive benefits involved in language pedagogies commonly used in Australian
mainstream classroom needs to be provided.
learning as well as its humanistic values
(such as promoting a more just and
harmonious society) could be planned.
1. Primary classroom teachers form a significant group of school
Promotion of the value of community that can be mobilised to support language programs in
2. There is a range of things that can be done in this direction.
Further promotion of languages in a wider
community is important as this shapes Some are school-based, very practical and could be
implemented almost immediately.
views of classroom teachers about the Some are system-related, and could be viewed as
value of languages. ‘medium-term’ strategies.
The March 2007 Report (p.29) notes a need And finally, there are ways to go which are really long-
term in human terms – may involve several generations.
for ‘a far reaching public awareness
campaign’. “The mediocre state of language learning in this country is
For this purpose, all language champions not from lack of effort or money being spent. The reality is
need to work together, using all possible much more complex, and we would not pretend that there
is a simple solution to resolving the intricate interplay
avenues to promote languages. between a variety of social, cultural, economic and
political forces. The current situation in Australia has
taken many years to develop, and is thus likely to take
The value / importance of languages could many years to change.”
be further reinforced in teacher training (Review of the Commonwealth LOTE Programme. Erbus Consulting Partners.
December 2002, p. xiii)
courses. We need to fight for space in the
language education curriculum, which could
also be reinforced across other disciplines.