Apparently the number of students doing a language at Year 11 level has dropped yet again, this time even more dramatically than before.
The powers that be have only themselves to blame. The new SACE (South Australian Certificate of Education) requires one less subject. There is "greater flexibility" of subject choice.
Good students will be encouraged to do what are known as "the suicidal five", English, a double unit of mathematics, physics, chemistry and another science. It is a subject choice aimed at turning out scientists. A language is not likely to be the fifth choice.
Part of the problem has to be the languages which are taught. My nephews attended a school where Chinese is compulsory. This is in keeping with the government policy that schools should teach languages like Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian "because we live in the Asian region".
My nephews, like many other Australian children, have grandparents who do not speak English as a first language. These grandparents however do not speak Chinese, Japanese or Indonesian. They speak Greek.
At the end of year 10, when my nephews were able to choose subjects, they simply stopped doing Chinese. They have almost completely forgotten all they were taught.
If their grandparents speak to them in Greek, as they sometimes do, they can usually understand but they will almost always reply in a mixture of Greek and English. As their own father will also use a mixture of Greek and English with his parents this is not surprising. My nephews cannot read or write Greek but they do know more Greek than Chinese.
Government policy however dictates we teach "Asian languages". Learning them is said to take many more hours than it takes to reach the same level of (in)competence in an European language but we only devote the same number of classroom hours.
I did three years of Latin at school. It was an additional subject and I had to do it by correspondence lessons. No languages were taught at all in the rural schools I attended. Everything else I know about languages other than English I have taught myself. My working life involves many other languages. I have managed to learn about these things because I need them. My nephews have managed to learn some Greek for the same reason.
Is our failure to successfully teach Asian languages something to do with the fact that we do not see a need for them? Does it mean that when young Australians are asked by their Asian and European counterparts, "So, how many languages do you speak?", that the answer will be "Only one."?