Spanish is an important community language in Australia. With 117,498 speakers according to the 2011 census (compared to 90,477 in 1991), Spanish is the 7th most commonly used language in Australia after English.1 The presence of Spanish in Australian schools and universities has grown exponentially in the last decade, due in large part to students’ demand.

Spanish is offered in a small number of Australian schools. Data provided by the Spanish Embassy Education Office show that in late 2012 only 258 of the 9,529 primary and secondary schools in the country offered Spanish in some form. Accordingly, the number of students who complete Spanish to Year 12 is very small compared to other languages. As an example, official 2010 figures reveal that in Victoria 4,151 students studied Spanish at primary or secondary level in public schools, compared to 74,421 that studied Italian, 62,221 Japanese, 56,057 Indonesian, 39,474 , French, 26,287 German, and 22,460 Mandarin (State of Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development 2011). While the new national curriculum includes Spanish as one of eight modern languages to be offered,2 comparison with the presence of other languages in Australian schools reveals that Spanish enrolments are lower than any of the NALSSP languages; Spanish enrolments are lower than French, German and Italian; noticeable differences exist in Spanish enrolments between different States, due to the fragmentation of the system into States and Territories, with relatively large numbers in South Australia and zero numbers in the Northern Territory.

Students of Spanish in Australia
Students of Spanish in Australia. University figures are 2005. Primary and Secondary figures are 2003 (Vic), 2004 (ACT, NSW, SA, WA), 2005 (Qld)
Number of education centres with Spanish language offerings
Number of education centres with Spanish language offerings. Data from Education Office, Embassy of Spain in Canberra Nd
Students of Spanish in Australia and Number of education centres with Spanish language offerings
Charts of Students of Spanish in Australia and Number of education centres with Spanish language offerings


Spanish in academia

As an academic discipline at tertiary level, Spanish is growing both in popularity and in visible outcomes. First introduced to Australia in the 1960s, Spanish is nowadays taught at undergraduate level in 19 universities, including seven of the Group of Eight research intensive universities. According to data provided by the Spanish Embassy Education Office, in 2011 the largest cohorts were located at the universities of Melbourne (1,282 students), Sydney (1,114) and Queensland (716).3

Growing numbers of undergraduate language enrolments – in particular at beginners’ level – guarantee the viability of the discipline. According to figures provided by the Spanish Embassy’s Education Office, the number of higher degree enrolments continues to grow, from 6,341 in 2007 to 9,173 in 2010. Research projects on Spanish language and culture funded by the Australian Research Council remain scarce but growing. The discipline enjoys a professional association that brings together academics from language and social science departments, the Association for Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia (AILASA), and its associated scholarly journal, the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research (JILAR). In Sydney and Melbourne, clusters of universities collaborate on research seminars and projects: the Sydney University Research Community for Latin America (SURCLA) and the Wally Thompson seminar series co-organised by the universities of Melbourne, Monash, La Trobe and RMIT.4 …

In nearly all universities where it is offered, Spanish is taught within the Bachelor of Arts as a Major or as an independent study path. The flexibility of the Australian system allows students to study Spanish in a number of ways: as a three-year study pathway within a Bachelor’s degree, which in some cases can be extended to a fourth year (a Bachelor with Honours degree that usually includes a one-semester research component), or as a shorter study path of one or two years leading to a Minor within the BA. In most cases, students can also take one or two single Spanish subjects as electives within their undergraduate degrees. Some universities offer Spanish and other languages as concurrent diploma options, allowing students who have all their major and elective subjects in other disciplines to study some extra-curricular Spanish. In addition, a small number of universities offer non-credit bearing Spanish classes through community- oriented language institutes and centres.5


Vested Interests: the Place of Spanish in Australian Academia (2014)

Profesor Alfredo Martínez-Expósito


The history of Spanish departments in Australian universities can be traced back to the 1960s, when a number of British hispanistas relocated to Australia and created a small number of successful teaching programs that reproduced the British model. A second generation of Spanish scholars arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly from Latin American countries, in a migration wave that is still current. The transition from a British understanding of the Spanish discipline, with a strong focus on (canonical) literary studies, to current curricula that emphasise communicative skills and a loose notion of cultural studies, is symptomatic of deeper changes in the way the discipline has sought to reposition itself in the context of the Modern Languages debate.


Spanish in Australia, Teaching of Spanish, Discipline of Spanish


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1. Martínez-Expósito, Alfredo (2014). “Vested Interests: the Place of Spanish in Australian Academia” in Coolabah, No. 13, Observatori: Centre d’Estudis Australians, Australian Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona, p. 76 on the Universitat de Barcelona website [Online] Cited 21/11/2014
2. According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) published discussion paper, languages for which an Australian Curriculum will be developed by the end of 2013 are: Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages (a framework); Arabic and Vietnamese (pitched to learners who have some background in the language); French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek and Spanish (pitched to second language learners); Chinese (three learner pathways to be developed to cater specifically for second language learners across F-10, background language learners across F-10 and first language learners in Years 7-10)
Cited in Martínez-Expósito p. 77 [Online] 21/11/2014
3. Ibid., p. 77
4. Ibid., p. 77
5. Ibid., p. 78