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Making the case for languages

By Julie Bishop - posted Friday, 23 March 2012

Young people growing up in Europe have taken it for granted for many years that they will learn at least one language other than their mother tongue.

For many they will learn two or more languages.

Canadians are expected to be bi-lingual and the United States is rapidly becoming bi-lingual due to the huge influx of Spanish-speaking migrants in recent decades.


Similarly, in Asia there is a growing expectation that young people will be not only bi-lingual but multi-lingual.

In many Asian countries English is a compulsory second language from an early age, and can be a prerequisite to university entrance.

In contrast to the growing expectation internationally that people will speak more than one language, there is paradoxically a declining interest in Australia among school and university students.

I have argued in a series of speeches over the past few years that there needs to be an overhaul of language eduction in Australia.

Our basic educational skills should include modern foreign language education for all students.

Studies show that learning another language improves the academic skills of students by enhancing their reading, writing and mathematical abilities as well as providing cognitive benefits.


Languages should be at the heart of learning and should be taught to children as early as practicable.

It could be argued that the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century eased the pressure on Australian second language training as the English language has become the Lingua Franca of international business.

The use of interpreters is in decline at formal meetings between international officials as an increasing number of discussions are conducted in English.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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