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Produced by Asia Education Foundation, this digest shares recent research relevant to fostering the development of Asian languages and studies, and intercultural understanding in Australian schools.

August 2014 edition


Australian Curriculum: Languages (F-10)

On 21 July 2014, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) made available the Australian Curriculum: Languages (F-10) for four languages, Chinese, French, Indonesian and Italian. With this release, ACARA has now published curriculum for all eight learning areas of the Australian Curriculum. The curricula for the four languages are available for use, but are awaiting endorsement by the Education Council (formerly known as the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood). Each state/territory will now proceed to adopt/adapt the curricula for implementation. (Adapted from ACARA media release, 21 July 2014)

Learning through Languages: Review of Languages Education Policy in NSW

The NSW Board of Studies Teaching & Educational Standards (BOSTES) recently published the outcomes of its review of language education. The final document, Learning through Languages, draws on research, stakeholder discussions and consultation processes, presenting a series of proposals for consideration by the NSW Schools Advisory Council and the NSW Minister of Education.

Proposals include:

  • NSW Language Advisory established to oversee the strategic coordination of language education initiatives.
  • New K–10 language curriculum framework developed by BOSTES, including two strands, one on language understanding (e.g. language awareness, intercultural understanding) and one on language learning.
  • Curriculum material and resources as well as a Language Proficiency Framework (including descriptions of student achievement levels) developed by BOSTES based on the new K–10 curriculum framework.
  • Targeted programming support material for Aboriginal Languages K–10 Syllabus developed by BOSTES in collaboration with Aboriginal language education stakeholders.
  • Medium-term objective of establishing a Language Key Learning Area in primary schools to be considered by the Language Advisory, and overseeing the development of a strategy to increase supply of specialist primary school language teachers.
  • Mandatory 100 hours of language learning in Years 7 and 8.
  • Review of HSC pattern of study requirements by BOSTES to acknowledge the time and effort required for successful achievement in languages in Stage 6; BOSTES will develop also a communication strategy to address misconceptions regarding languages and ATAR.

(Adapted from BOSTES report, Learning through Languages)

Journal articles

The cognitive development of young dual language learners

Barac, R., Bialystok, E., Castro, D. & Sanchez, M. (2014). The cognitive development of young dual language learners: A critical review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, DOI:10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.02.003

This article provides an overview of existing research on the cognitive development of bilingual pre-school children. 102 peer-reviewed articles between 2000 and 2013 were analysed, showing relatively consistent 'bilingual advantage' in certain areas of cognitive development. For example, bilingual children typically demonstrate more advanced 'executive control skills' (e.g. ability to resist a habitual response or information that is not relevant; ability to hold information in mind and mentally manipulate it; cognitive flexibility) than their monolingual peers. Bilingual children also outperform their peers in 'theory of mind understanding', which is the metacognitive ability to ascribe mental states to other people.The authors conclude that the exercise of managing two linguistic systems generally leads to cognitive advantages, and that the outcomes of bilingualism depend on both the level of linguistic proficiency and the extent of language use. (Abstract adapted from Barac, R., Bialystok, E., Castro, D. & Sanchez, M.)

Practical relevance
While the meta-study did not investigate the impact of short-term exposure to a second language at school, the findings suggest that for bilingual cognitive advantage to occur children need to learn and practice the additional language over a longer period of time and use it with adequate proficiency

Pragmatics and interculteral mediation in intercultural language learning

Liddicoat, A. (2014). Pragmatics and intercultural mediation in intercultural language learning. Intercultural Pragmatics, 11(2), pp. 259–277.

This article examines language learners' experiences of cultural differences in language use and the ways in which they develop insights into the culturally determined nature of language use (e.g. pragmatic differences depending on context). In both mediation for self and mediation for others, there is a similar process of developing an interpretation of cultural behavior that considers perspectives both internal and external to the learner. The analysis details how language learners use pragmatics as a starting point for intercultural mediation and shows how analysis of language in use can provide an entry point into understandings of culture and its connection to language. The behaviour described is fundamentally an intercultural one; it involves an awareness of one's own cultural practices and expectations as well as knowledge of the target culture. (Abstract adapted from Liddicoat, A.)

Practical relevance
The article discusses the interconnectedness of language learning and developing intercultural understanding, which relates to the Intercultural understanding general capability within the Australian Curriculum. It also draws language teachers' attention to the potential of using languages more deliberately to promote cultural and intercultural learning.

Learning Chinese in Diasporic Communities

Curdt-Christiansen, X. L., & Hancock, A.  (Eds.) (2014). Learning Chinese in Diasporic Communities: Many pathways to being Chinese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

This edited volume brings together new theoretical perspectives and bilingual education models from different contexts to address the importance of sociocultural, educational and linguistic environments that create, enhance or limit the ways in which diasporic children and young people learn Chinese. The chapters present a variety of studies on Chinese heritage language education and bilingual education, drawing on detailed investigations of formal and informal education.

In one of the chapters ('Chinese language teaching in Australia') Shen Chen and Yuzhe Zhang argue that Australia is a unique example of an English-speaking country with progressive language policies that promote Asian languages. Their research is based on a policy study and case studies of three universities in NSW, revealing some pedagogical problems that need addressing in order to improve students' learning outcomes. (Abstract adapted from Curdt-Christiansen, X. L., & Hancock, A.)

Practical relevance
Chinese is one of the most commonly taught languages in Australian schools, and the Australian Curriculum: Chinese (F-10) has recently been published by ACARA (available for use but awaiting final endorsement by the Education Council). While the edited volume offers an international perspective on teaching and learning Chinese, the chapter on the situation in Australia highlights specifically the challenges of Chinese language teaching in NSW, including practical ideas on how to overcome these challenges.


The views expressed within this update, or any of the articles it contains, do not necessarily represent those of AEF or the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

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