New award to combat decline in language studies

6 August 2015

Many Australians have the mistaken belief that English is enough, and are living in a fool's paradise of thinking that English will continue being the only language we need

A declining interest in learning languages other than English and lack of recognition for language teachers is seeing Australia fall behind.

This is the view of Professor Jane Simpson, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at The Australian National University (ANU).

"Fewer and fewer students are doing languages at HSC level. There has been a decline in the number of languages taught at universities, and the number of universities teaching languages," Professor Simpson said.

"Many Australians have the mistaken belief that English is enough, and are living in a fool's paradise of thinking that English will continue being the only language we need."

In 2013 only eight per cent of HSC students sat a foreign language exam, down from more than 50 per cent in the '50s.

Professor Simpson believes part of the reason for this is that learning languages is not significantly recognised as an achievement.

"We don't believe that people recognise what a triumph it is to learn a language," Dr Simpson said.

To help combat this, the Centre of Excellence has launched the Patji-Dawes award to celebrate language teachers.

"We want celebrate language teaching and learning and draw public attention to what an intellectual achievement it is to learn a language," Professor Simpson said.

The award is named in honour of young indigenous Eora woman, Patyegarang and First Fleet settler Lieutenant William Dawes. The two shared a student-teacher relationship that saw Lt Dawes master the local Sydney indigenous language in what is the earliest documented instance of a settler learning an Indigenous language.

Award nominations are now open, with language students encouraged to nominate outstanding teachers.

"We want to encourage students from high school, community schools and universities to nominate teachers. I would also like to encourage immigrants who have come here and learned English to nominate a teacher who has inspired them," she said.

Nominations for the Patji-Dawes awards can be made through the Dynamics of Language website. Nominations close on 20 August with the winner to be announced 16 October.