Monday, 12 December 2011

"He wants to drop Chinese

next year but he did really well at it and we think he should continue with it."
I can see an argument brewing here. I was talking to the father of the boy who lives opposite the Whirlwind and her father - or rather, he was talking to me.
His son is moving into the last two years of secondary schooling next year. He is a "nice kid" and has, so far, worked hard and well at school. He is always at or near the top of his year. He quite likes maths but likes English and French more. He does not like Chinese.
Up until the end of this year Chinese has been compulsory. Last year there were just eight boys in the year ahead of him who continued with Chinese - and five of them came from Chinese families. My nephews, who attended another school where Chinese was compulsory, also dropped it as soon as possible - although my youngest nephew was consistently top of the class.
He saw no point in continuing. After ten years he could not hold a simple conversation with the parents of his Chinese "best" friend. I think they spoke Hokkien but even if they had spoken standard Mandarin there would, he says, have been a problem.
This morning, oddly enough, there was a report in the paper about the low numbers continuing with an Asian language to the end of secondary school. It does not surprise me. Languages are time intensive to learn and languages like Chinese and Japanese tend to be even more time intensive.
Australian schools do not make provision for that. The expectation is that classroom time needs to be no more than it is for any other language - or maths or science. The teaching is often far from expert - and rarely from a native speaker of the language. All of those things have a negative impact.
There are also few opportunities to hear things like Japanese or Mandarin Chinese spoken in the community - and even less opportunity to attempt to engage in conversation. For all we are being told that Asian languages are important to our future the opportunities to use them while learning are very limited. It must make them appear irrelevant to young students.
I would like to see all students have the opportunity to learn a second language but I also believe that compelling them to learn one language over another is not necessarily going to bring about the desired outcomes.
In this case the boy in question wants to continue with French rather than Chinese. I hope his parents and his school allow him to do so.


jeanfromcornwall said...

"After ten years . . he could not hold a conversation with the parents of his best friend"
To me that says he was not really learning the language. What he has learned of it will be little or no use in future years.
I had had five and a half years of learning French when I went on an exchange visit to a family who spoke no English. After two weeks I was dreaming in French! Nearly fifty years on I can still hold a simple conversation or write a letter to a French company, without any practice in between. That is usefully learning a language. I hope the lad gets his wish.

widdershins said...

It's COMPULSORY there now? WTF !!! ... when did that happen?

catdownunder said...

You are right of course Jean but that is the way it gets taught here - and there is little or no chance of going to China and using it.
Widdershins - compulsory in his school, not in all schools. All the same there is the suggestion that Chinese etc should take precedence over things like French and if a language became compulsory (something else they would like) then yes, an Asian language would be the one which would be compulsory.

Anonymous said...

No Asian language should be compulsory. This is all about government kowtowing to government. The real world uses English to do business.