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Overcoming language barriers

by User Not Found | Jul 13, 2018



Kate Hill, Classroom LOTE Teacher and Monash University Masters Graduate

Kate Hill_Interview

Linguistics expert and LOTE teacher, Ms Kate Hill, recently completed her Masters from Monash University in Expert Teaching Practice, writing her final paper on Strategies that Build Demand for Successful Language Learning Programs: Asia Literacy and Asian language learning in Australian schools. We recently sat down with Ms Hill to discuss her findings. Read the interview below.

  1. There are a great number of factors affecting the current state of Asian language learning in Australia. What do you see some of these?

    Some of these include frequent changes in policy, systems of support that are not differentiated to the needs of very different Asian languages, the negative representation of certain countries and their languages by the media, a lack of consensus around which (Asian) languages should be taught and a lack of consensus around how learning an Asian language should be presented to young people, to name a few. Unfortunately, my research found that many language programs are not well supported, and therefore can not meet minimum requirements, rendering them almost redundant.

  2. In your opinion, how can Government policy profoundly affect the implementation of Asian language programs?

    In an Australian Education Review report published by Joseph Lo Bianco in 2009, there were mentions of Australia’s complex relationship with Indonesia, including community attitudes and media coverage that tend to be negative and one-dimensional, which, I think, continue to affect how the language is valued and pursued across Australia. In the same report, there was also major concerns expressed around ‘increasing provisions for LOTE when there is a widespread perception that English literacy is [in a state of] national crisis’. These concerns remain despite a body of research that proves that learning a language helps to increase native language ability. I feel that Government policy can be 'tokenistic' rather than meaningful and needs to be more serious about developing a policy that can be put into practice in Australian schools and classrooms. Finally, in my opinion, there is an urgent need for a consistent approach to both the allocation of curriculum time, and the creation of pathways between all stages of schooling, to allow successful, sequential language learning to occur.

  3. What is ‘Asia Literacy’ and why do you see it as important?

    I worked with the definition provided by the Australian Curriculum web page, which  states that ‘Asia Literacy provides students with the skills to communicate and engage with the peoples of Asia so they can effectively live, work and learn in the region….Asia literacy is going to be a key requirement of our young people, as Australia seeks to strengthen its ties in the Asia region and be an effective contributor to the wellbeing of the region as a whole’ (2015, overview). 

    The Asia Literacy Ambassadors paper published by the University of Melbourne (2012), outlines the way in which it hoped to address the lack of demand for the study of Asian languages by establishing partnerships between Asia oriented businesses or business people, and Australian secondary schools. The initial implementation of the project took place when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd envisioned Australia becoming ‘the most Asia literate nation in the collective West’ (McRae, 2012, p.9, para.1).

  4. Is there a correlation between effectiveness of language teacher training and the demand for Asia Literacy?

    A review published in 2012, found that one of the most common themes to emerge from the literature is the critical role that teachers and school leaders play in initiating and managing Asian studies programs. I believe this is central to driving demand - the presence of a pedagogical leader.

    In terms of implementing changes and building demand, I believe an emphasis on the importance of professional learning for teachers, and having leaders capable of influencing and implementing Asia focused programs is key. Thus, having the right curriculum is necessary but it is equally important to have school leaders to initiate, drive and facilitate implementation.

  5. In conclusion, what sort of approach do you think is needed to build demand for successful Asian language learning in Australia?

    A piecemeal, fragmentary approach will not do. The findings from my literature review highlight a pyramid of consolidated strategies that build demand; one cannot exist without the other. That is, students need to see the relevance and value of Asian language learning and Asia literacy. In order for this to occur, they must have a positive rapport with a teacher who is passionate and has access to targeted, language specific professional development, as well as the support of the parents. For parental engagement to occur and teacher dedication to remain high, language programs must be supported by school leadership. In turn, leadership requires the support of government, who must become more serious about ensuring that an effective policy can be put into practice acorss Australian schools and classrooms.

As told to the Asia Education Foundation by Ms Kate Hill in June 2018 following the release of her literature review as a student of Monash University. Full references were inserted from the final paper. 

Kate Hill is an Indonesian and English teacher who has taught in both Melbourne and Indonesia. She has taught in urban, suburban and rural areas of Victoria. Kate has a Bachelor of Arts/Education with a major in LOTE teaching and Linguistics. Kate has recently completed her Masters in Expert Teaching Practice. She has taught in language centres, mainstream primary and secondary schools and, briefly, in indigenous communities in Northern Territory. She has facilitated many education based programs with asylum seekers and refugee background students and their families across Melbourne. Kate worked in Indonesia as a Youth Ambassador with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is about to begin teaching in Nairobi, Kenya.


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