Language skills and cultural sensitivity will be the new world-order currency

Developing language skills was recognised in the 1989 National Goals for Schooling, and re-affirmed in the 1999 National Goals, where the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) learning area was identified as one of the eight key learning areas, and one in which all learners are expected to attain high standards of knowledge, skills and understandings. The National Statement and National Plan for Languages Education in Australian Schools (2005-2008) (published 2005) furthered progress towards that goal. Download the statement (125kb pdf)

Australia lives in a time of rapid change. Information and communication technologies are accelerating the movement of people and ideas across the globe and expanding the range of communities in which people operate. Twenty-first century education needs to engage with, and be responsive to, this changing world. It needs to develop in learners the knowledge, understanding and attributes necessary for successful participation and engagement within and across local, regional and global communities, and in all spheres of activity.

“Language skills and cultural sensitivity will be the new currency of this world order”

General Peter Cosgrove, Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council, 30 May 2002; and Asia Education Foundation National Summit, 26 November 2003.


 Australia must build on its diverse linguistic and cultural environment

English is Australia’s national language. It is also growing as an international language of communication. But English alone is not enough for our learners. In our increasingly multilingual world, more people speak two languages than one, and contact with speakers of other languages is rapidly growing. Australia must build on its diverse linguistic and cultural environment which is a result of its Indigenous history, geography and migration.

Education in a global community brings with it an increasing need to focus on developing inter-cultural understanding. This involves the integration of language, culture and learning. Inter-cultural language learning helps learners to know and understand the world around them, and to understand commonality and difference, global connections and patterns. Learners will view the world, not from a single perspective of their own first language and culture, but from the multiple perspectives gained through the study of second and subsequent languages and cultures. For learners who study their background or heritage language, it provides a strengthened sense of identity. Inter-cultural language learning contributes to the overall education of learners, developing in them the capabilities to:

  • Communicate, interact and negotiate within and across languages and cultures
  • Understand their own and others’ languages, thus extending their range of literacy skills, including skills in English literacy
  • Understand themselves and others, and to understand and use diverse ways of knowing, being and doing
  • Further develop their cognitive skills through thinking critically and analytically, solving problems, and making connections in their learning

Such capabilities assist learners to live and work successfully as linguistically and culturally aware citizens of the world.1


Have Australian students a fair go?

Australia has an impressive record of policy development and program innovation in second language education, but a relatively poor record for consistency of application and maintenance of effort. A large number of reports, enquiries, official policies and implementation programs is testimony to a lively concern for improvement, unfortunately undermined by lack of consensus about priorities and failure to devise an enduring rationale for what is ultimately needed: high standard, articulated, compulsory language education. While there appears to be public appreciation of the importance of second languages, there is less appreciation of the degree of institutional commitment, levels of funding and provider change required to achieve effective language knowledge through formal education.2


Primary school enrolments, Australia by language, 2006

Primary school enrolments, Australia by language, 2006
Primary school enrolments, Australia by language, 2006 Footnote 3

Secondary school enrolments, Australia by language, 2006

Secondary school enrolments by language, Australia, 2006
Secondary school enrolments by language, Australia, 2006 Footnote 4


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1. Excerpts from Ministerial Council On Education, Employment, Training And Youth Affairs (2005). “National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools and National Plan for Languages Education in Australian Schools 2005-2008,” on the Education Council website [Online] Cited 10/11/2014
2. Lo Bianco, Joseph and Slaughter, Yvette (2009). Second Languages and Australian Schooling. Australian Council for Educational Research. Camberwell, Victoria: ACER Press, p. 6 on the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences website [Online] Cited 10/11/2014
3. Research Unit for Multilingualism and Cross-Cultural Communication (RUMACCC). (2007). The Study of Languages Other Than English in Australia, 2006 – A report to the MCEETYA Languages Education Working Party. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne, illustrated in Lo Bianco, Joseph and Slaughter, Yvette, p. 44
4. Ibid., p. 50