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Teaching Chinese with Australian characteristics October 7, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Professor Michael Singh

In 2012 it is Chinese-Australians – teachers and students – in senior secondary schools across the country who are now making a substantial contribution to securing Australia’s linguistic and intellectual engagements with speakers of Chinese (Mandarin or Han Yu) within Australia and around the world.

Clearly, Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration program is very effective in building this nation’s multilingual assets and providing Australians with the basis for connecting with a world in which multilingualism is the norm.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott recognise the importance of having second language learners in Australia to study Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese. Both leaders see it as important for the prospects of Australia in what is called the ”Asian Century.”

Wisely, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) guidelines for developing the Australian Languages Curriculum make provision for first, background and second language learners. As an important policy framework, this gives all Australian students a chance to do well.

The Western Sydney Region of the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities is successfully stimulating the learning of Chinese among some five thousand primary and second school students who are learning it as a second language.

Volunteer university graduates from Ningbo (China) work with classroom teachers as teacher-researchers to investigate ways to make Chinese learnable for second language learners in Australia.

The Ningbo Volunteers are also studying research degrees in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney. Through these studies they are investigating a number of intractable educational problems.

Sino-Australian teacher - researcher education: Networking   international learning & bilingual communicative capabilities

Sino-Australian teacher – researcher education: Networking  
international learning & bilingual communicative capabilities

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is studying ways of making Chinese learnable for second language learners in Australia, rather than insisting that it is difficult for second language learners to acquire Chinese. So, the Volunteers are studying ways of teaching Chinese with Australian characteristics to children just beginning to learn this second language.

They have shown that second language learners need programs and pedagogies that stimulate their interests, engage their enthusiasms, and reward them with successful language learning experiences.

Likewise, their research findings indicate that children, parents and teachers must recognise that second language education is about learners, parents and teachers, and that they must have their reasons for learning a second language recognised and directly engaged within the teaching/learning process.

A key finding from their studies is that for beginners, a focus on the social and linguistic similarities between English and Chinese is more successful and rewarding than a focus on linguistics and emphasising differences. This has led the Volunteers to engage in the research-based development of pedagogies that work to reduce the ‘cost’ for beginners of learning Chinese as a second language; not making it a difficult and unrewarding experience.

Second languages education is being further stimulated through research into the formal recognition of the Ningbo Volunteers’ bilingual communicative competence in the University of Western Sydney.

With some 150 languages spoken by Australia’s university students, formal acknowledgement of student-teachers’ linguistic capabilities as part of Australian teacher education programs would provide an added stimulus to second language learning.

This research is also contributing to a better understanding of the historical alternations that have affected the local/global flows of languages and knowledge. Such knowledge is necessary for explaining the renaissance of China as a global centre for knowledge production – knowledge that is being produced in Han zi.

Together this teacher-research is providing a firm base for second language education in Australian schools and is inspiring much confidence.

Over the past three years this research has contributed original knowledge about the characteristics of programs and pedagogies that make Chinese learnable, and provided really useful ideas to help schools and universities to collaborate in delivering on the large-scale, long-term investment policy-makers promise to provide.

Michael Singh is a Professor of Education in the School of Education’s Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

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