In NSW high schools, languages is a key learning area.
Language study allows students to develop communication skills, learn about languages as systems and explore the relationship between language and culture. Students engage with the linguistic and cultural diversity of societies and reflect on their understanding of social interactions.
"Achieving proficiency in other languages is one of the great learning experiences in the human condition. The compelling reasons for learning languages reside in the intellectual enrichment of the individual learner – a better understanding of the world, Australia's place in it, and the many communities within Australia." – Australian Language and Literacy Council.
Moving between countries, cultures and languages has become more commonplace because of globalisation, increased ease of travel and advanced information and communication technologies. High quality education in languages enables students to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of their rapidly changing world.
Stephen Wurm, former member of United Nations Assembly said, "Multilingual people have access to a much larger volume of knowledge and, being used to switching languages, they have more flexible minds. They are less rigid in their attitudes and tend to be more tolerant, less hostile to the unknown and more inclined to regard other people's cultural practices as acceptable and to be respected. They also have a greater ability than monolinguals to learn something entirely new, to fit into novel situations without trauma, and to understand different sides of a problem."
The study of languages provides opportunities for students to become more accepting of diversity, more respectful of others and more aware of their place in the international community.
Contemporary research and practice have established a clear link between the learning of languages and improved literacy skills for both background speakers and second language learners. Even limited experience of the learning of languages is shown to increase metalinguistic awareness and enhance general cognitive development.
The process of teaching and learning languages focuses on linguistic systems and patterns. The need to move between linguistic systems assists students to develop enhanced mental dexterity.
Learning a language has direct benefits in the following areas:
- communication and literacy skills
- pleasure and leisure
- trade and diplomacy
- learning how to learn any other language
- awareness of how language in general works
- knowledge of one's own language
- learning skills, thinking skills and creativity
- cultural knowledge and insights.
The study of a language is compulsory for 100 hours in one continuous school year from Year 7 to Year 10, but preferably in Years 7 or 8.
In Years 11 and 12, NSW schools offer a wide variety of languages, catering for beginning students to background speakers.
Students and parents should also be aware that many Australian universities have recently introduced a bonus points incentive scheme for entry to university for students who have studied languages other than English to HSC level during senior high school. The bonus points can be 2 to 5 points depending on the university.
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted the growing number of students who are keen to gain additional language qualifications to help their job prospects in the increasingly competitive and global job markets. Employers are looking for capable young people with strong language, literacy and communication skills. The article emphasised that remaining monolingual (speaking only one language) will never expand a student's career prospects. Undergraduate enrolment in languages has increased annually at a rate of between 5 and 7 per cent since 2004. Parents of students planning university studies should look at how the incentive scheme for language students may benefit their child.