Second Language Learning in Australian Schools

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Primary Education in Australia

In Australia, children begin school somewhere between the ages of four and a half and six years old, with the average being around five years. The first year of school is the ‘prep’ or ‘preparatory’ year, and it is here that children begin to learn the basic skills which will set them on a solid footing for the rest of their schooling. As well as the familiar subjects of English, Math, Science and Physical Education, children also begin to learn a language. This language study continues through their primary years, so that by the end of primary school they have completed six or seven years of a language other than English.

Language Choices

Most schools only offer a single language, and this choice is sometimes limited by the availability of teachers who are fluent in that language. In some cases teachers who are not fluent in the language may teach the class, but generally children are taught by a teacher who is highly skilled in their particular language. As well as learning to speak the language, children learn about the culture, special events and traditions which are a part of the associated country. Over time, they gain an in depth understanding of the people and country of the language they are studying.

The languages offered in different schools varies greatly, and may include:

  • Indonesian
  • Japanese
  • German
  • French
  • Chinese
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Vietnamese

In the state of Victoria, in Southern Australia, a total of 22 different languages are taught across primary schools, and 19 in secondary schools.

For some students, they language they learn in primary school then continues into their secondary years. For others, once they move into secondary school, they may have the opportunity to begin learning a second language. This can be a down fall of the language learning stream, however, as some students find it very frustrating to have become quite fluent in a language in their early schooling years, only to discover that their classmates in secondary school have learnt a different language and so are at a completely different stage in their learning to them.

Some students are able to continue learning their language straight through their school years, and can then choose pathways such as further study in tertiary education, or vocational pathways into interpreting and translating work or foreign affairs postings.