Mum’s the word: You could be surprised what influences a child’s language | Goulburn Post



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I’ve always been told that it is best to speak correctly to babies and toddlers – none of this baby talk. The theory, as I understand it, is to better assist with the development of their language skills. On the other hand understanding the developing communication and speech of a young one can be quite the challenge for parents. It can also lead to some interesting words and interpretations along the way. I fondly remember the time when my first born, as a toddler asked me for some “flying chips”. I confess I was stumped and asked him to repeat himself. Again he asked for “flying chips”. It was a bit of a puzzle for both my husband and myself for quite a few minutes. Of course our delayed response to the request frustrated our little one. Then the penny dropped. Well at least we hoped it had. I grabbed a pack of chips from the pantry – plain of course – and asked our hungry toddler “is this what you would like?” The smile that spread across his face was all the response I needed to realise he was asking for plain chips. Somehow he had mixed up plain with plane and come to the conclusion they were flying chips. The complex thought process of that little mind to go from plain chips to flying chips has never ceased to amaze me. READ MORE: From memory, I believe it was the first time one of our children stumped us verbally, but I can assure you it was not the last. Another word that the left us confused for a short while was one that became a regular used by our youngest daughter. She would have been little more than a year old when one day she requested a ‘gee’. No she was not a culinary genius requesting the ingredient ‘cow ghee’. She was simply asking for a ‘gee’. After some careful investigation from both parents and older siblings – we followed the pointed finger – we realised that she was actually asking for a drink. I have no idea how she translated the word drink to gee but it was the word she used for quite some time. This same child again stumped me with some philosophical musings one day when she was about five years old. We were traveling in the car and from the back seat I heard this little voice say “Mummy, I know I’m real, but how do I know you and daddy are? How do I know I’m not dreaming about you?” It was a question that had me speechless. I was floored by the deep thinking behind the question. I was left pondering how best to answer her, to convince that we were real without trivialising the very thought-provoking comment. I don’t believe I came up with a particularly riveting response, and no-where near as deeply thought out as the question, but it seemed to do the trick. It went something along the lines of “that’s a very good question. I can honestly say that daddy and I are real and we are always here for you.” It was an answer that must have ticked the correct boxes because the matter was never raised again. However, I have never forgotten that deeply thought out question. In fact, the musings and conversations with our children were often intriguing…and some times a little shocking. Let’s just say what is said at daddy’s footy, should stay at daddy’s footy. And, believe it or not, the same could apply for things heard at pre-school. My husband and I were very careful about not swearing around our children. So we were shocked when our son, who was about three at the time, clearly said the taboo four-letter ‘F’ word while playing with his Tonka truck. At first we gave each other an accusatory glare, but then we asked the toddler with the colourful language “where did you here that word?” The response was simple – “daddy’s footy”. We said nothing more and fortunately that word didn’t become a part of his young and developing vocabulary. The youngest of our brood shocked us with a complete sentence using the same word when she was about the same age. At the time she was playing with some blocks and all of a sudden she said “F…en hell, don’t say that word.” We were both floored, not only by the word she used, but by the way she used it in a sentence. We whispered to each other discussing whether or not we should address the matter or ignore it. We had heard that it was best to ignore a child when they swore. However, we decided to ask her what she had said. Of course she repeated the same sentence word for word. At that point we decided to say no more but we were both stumped as to how she had formulated such a complex sentence complete with cuss word and reprimand. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, while chatting with her pre-school teacher that the mystery was solved. I mentioned what our daughter had said and, a little bemused, the teacher apologised and explained there was a youngster at pre-school who was caught saying the first part of the sentence. The second part was the response from the teacher. Clearly our little one had heard the entire interaction and taken it on board. The good news is that the colourful phrase was never heard again – well at least not in our home. That is unless we are sharing funny childhood stories. What I have learnt is that there is rarely a dull moment once children begin to speak. Mumma Jak has three children and is familiar with the challenges of parenthood. She is well aware that every child is different, every day can be different and a parent’s approach needs to be different according to the situation at hand. She is happy to say she fumbled through, motivated from the perfect starting point – unconditional love. The good news is that all three of her children have become normal functioning adults. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here for the Highlands and here for the Tablelands. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

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Guided walk spoken in the Arabic language


Date & time

Sat 13 Feb 2021
9:00am to 10:30am

Date & time

Sat 13 Feb 2021
9:00am to 10:30am

The volunteers at Karawatha Forest Discovery Centre offer guided walks in languages other than English. This walk will be spoken in the Arabic language and participants will learn about the local flora and fauna on a guided walk on one of the many tracks within Karawatha Forest. After the walk, visitors can enjoy the parkland and the Discovery Centre.

Requirements – All children must be accompanied by an adult. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, secure, fully enclosed walking shoes, sun-smart clothing, sunscreen and insect repellent. Bring drinking water and a snack or picnic lunch as there are no food outlets on site.

Note – any walks or outside activities are subject to weather and environmental conditions and may be cancelled on the day.
 

Bookings are required via Eventbrite.

Venue

Karawatha Forest Park and Discovery Centre, 149 Acacia Road, Karawatha

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Breaking through language barriers | Science


I was sitting in a conference room with my new labmates, eager to engage about the exciting research we were all working on. Halfway through the meeting—my first as a Ph.D. student—I tried to contribute a couple of sentences. Suddenly, the room went quiet and I got lots of funny looks. I was overcome with embarrassment as I realized what had happened. Speaking about water movement in a river basin, I meant to say “upstream” and “downstream.” But instead my brain had gone with a word-by-word translation of the terms in my first language, Farsi: “high-hand” and “low-hand.” This was just the first of many times my brain failed to summon the right English words.

ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

“With some effort on both sides, language barriers need not be insurmountable.”

When I decided to leave my home country of Iran to pursue a Ph.D. in Canada, I hadn’t expected that communication would be an issue. In Farsi, I was an effective speaker. I had taken English lessons in my 20s and scored well on the English test for university admission.

But soon after my arrival in the English-speaking world, I realized how wrong I was. Expressing myself in Farsi had been effortless, but now I had to be careful and deliberate. I needed to consciously and simultaneously (1) follow the conversation and translate it to my native language, (2) reflect and generate thoughts and ideas in response, and (3) find the right English words and put them in the right order to communicate that response. I had a hard time remaining present and focused in conversations because I was constantly thinking about what I would say next. I gradually turned inward and passive, particularly when surrounded by native English speakers. And I worried about my future. After all, effective communication in English is critical to being included and recognized in many academic and professional environments.

But after another lab meeting a few months into my Ph.D. when I again failed to say exactly what I meant, a simple idea occurred to me. Why not contribute to the discussion in writing, in an email to my colleagues? That small tweak was a game changer, because writing gave me time to reflect and comfortably articulate my points in English. I made a practice of sitting at my computer and putting my Farsi thoughts into English words, taking my time to craft clear sentences with accurate vocabulary and grammar. Over time, this practice helped me simultaneously think and speak in English, as I do in my first language. I grew more comfortable with oral communication, which revived my spirits.

At the same time, I learned to be open with colleagues about the language barriers I faced. I realized how essential this was when, as a third-year Ph.D. student, I joined the executive team of my department’s graduate student association. I held back in our meetings because I still wasn’t confident about my communication ability. Soon, however, I felt the native English speakers on the team would interpret my apparent lack of engagement as a lack of interest. So I decided to remind my peers that English is not my first language, and I asked them to speak more slowly to help me follow the discussion and participate fully.

It was a little awkward to bring it up—after all, it was already crystal clear that English was not my first language, and I was hesitant to draw attention to something that might be seen as a weakness. And at first, the other members of the executive team seemed slightly taken aback. But the dynamic quickly improved. They seemed to become more aware of how they were speaking, and I felt more comfortable contributing to the conversation, even if it meant slowing down the discussion a little bit.

Now, 12 years after I moved to Canada, my language skills have greatly improved—but they’re not perfect. In meetings where I am the only nonnative English speaker, the pace of the conversation can still sometimes present a challenge. But I have learned that I can prepare and be open with others about the difficulties I and other nonnative English speakers may experience. With some effort on both sides, language barriers need not be insurmountable.

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Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani defended by Uruguay Spanish language institute over Premier League racism ban


The Uruguayan Academy of Letters has denounced a three-game ban given to Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani, calling the sanction for alleged racism an example of English football’s lack of “cultural and linguistic knowledge”.

The 33-year-old Uruguayan used the word “negrito” (Spanish for ‘little black person’) when replying to an Instagram comment after the club’s victory over Southampton on November 29, before taking it down and apologising.

He said it was intended as an expression of affection to a friend.

The FA said the comment was “improper and brought the game into disrepute”, fined Cavani 100,000 pounds ($177,133) and ordered him to complete “face-to-face education” as part of his punishment.

The FA said the social media post breached its guidelines as it “included a reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin”.

The academy, an association dedicated to protecting and promoting the Spanish language used in Uruguay, said it “energetically rejected the sanction”.

“The English Football Association has committed a serious injustice with the Uruguayan sportsman … and has shown its ignorance and error in ruling on the use of language, and in particular Spanish, without noting all its complexities and contexts,” the academy said in a statement.

“In the context that it was written, the only value that can be given to negrito, and particularly because of the diminutive use, is affectionately.”

The academy “energetically rejected” the sanction against the Uruguayan international.(AP: Matilde Campodonico/Pool)

Words referring to skin colour, weight and other physical characteristics are often used among friends and relations in Latin America, especially in the diminutive, the academy said.

In that context they are expressions of tenderness and are often used independently of the subject’s appearance.

It is not the first time that English football has grappled with the use of the term by a Spanish-speaking footballer.

Former Liverpool striker Luis Suárez, a Uruguay teammate of Cavani, was banned for eight matches and fined 40,000 pounds in 2011 for racially abusing Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra during confrontation during a match.

United said Cavani chose not to contest the charge out of respect for the FA and the “fight against racism in football”.

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In a statement, the club said Cavani was not aware that his words could have been misconstrued, and asked that the fine be invested in an anti-racism initiative.

“My heart is at peace because I know that I always expressed myself with affection according to my culture and way of life,” Cavani wrote on Instagram.

The Uruguayan said he had not intended to offend anyone.

“I want to share with you that I accept the disciplinary sanction knowing that I am foreign to English language customs, but I do not share the point of view,” he wrote in the statement.

“I apologise if I offended someone with an expression of affection towards a friend, nothing further in my intention.”

English anti-racism organisation Kick It Out called for more education for overseas players arriving in the United Kingdom.

“We believe it would be helpful for overseas players coming to play in England, to have consistent education on language or behaviour that may be unacceptable in this country,” it said in a tweet.

“That would help prevent situations, like this with Cavani and others, from reoccurring in the future.”

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Torres Strait Islander language Meriam Mir preserved through Christmas hymn recordings


For Murray Island descendant Matilda Christian, a collection of traditional festive hymns is creating the chance to spread much more than just the Christmas spirit.

The songs are helping Ms Christian and a group of other Torres Strait Islander descendants preserve the endangered Meriam Mir language in North Queensland communities.

“Language has an emotional, physical and spiritual connection to country,” Ms Christian said.

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Meriam Mir Christmas hymn(ABC Tropical North: Cristy-Lee Macqueen)
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The group has recorded a set of traditional hymns to help the community learn Meriam Mir, the language of the Eastern Islands, which UNESCO considers to be “definitely endangered”.

“We see it being used incorrectly [here] and we’ve had to do something about it,” Ms Christian said.

Ms Christian said regular jam sessions, community engagement and distribution of the recordings would promote and teach the language, which was believed to be spoken fluently in the Mackay region by just four people.

The group is distributing the songs through radio stations, and is holding jam sessions to promote the Meriam Mir language.(ABC Tropical North: Cristy-Lee Macqueen)

“We want to get the words out to the schools and start education,” Ms Christian said.

“I can see a need for education, as the language is not used correctly.

“Language has that spiritual connection, whether you believe in God or in the ground, Mother Earth — everyone has their own belief.

It is part of an ongoing effort to establish a Torres Strait Islands reference group in Mackay to represent descendants and facilitate a sense of community.

“We don’t have an incorporated Torres Strait Island voice.”

a group of women sit around singing
Recording the hymns helps to conjure the spirit of Christmas on the Torres Strait Islands.(ABC Tropical North: Cristy-Lee Macqueen)

Remembering an island Christmas

Joyce Gee, who moved to Queensland from Murray Island 47 years ago, is also involved in the project.

“We are trying our best to share these languages in songs and storytelling,” Ms Gee said.

“There’s a great [deal] that we have to do [for] our people here.”

The songs conjure up fond Christmas memories for Ms Gee.

“On Murray Island, the scenery changes, the flowers are blooming,” she said.

“You listen, people will play their music in every village and when you go past, you hear them singing.”

She and the group hoped the hymns would ignite that spirit and motivate the younger generation to learn the language.



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Indigenous language anthem at the Test was a nation-changing moment


From all over our brown and pleasant land, and indeed from around the world, sons and daughters of the Southern Cross reported in: tears, goose-bumps, relief, pride and . . . hope that at last we really have turned the corner.

Interested observers were the Kiwis whose own celebrated tradition in this field began in 1999, before the All Blacks played England at Twickenham, and the Maori singer Hinewehi Mohi gave it her all. It drew a great deal of criticism at the time, but is now all but universally the revered way of singing it.

Olivia Fox sings the national anthem ahead of Wallabies and Argentina.

Olivia Fox sings the national anthem ahead of Wallabies and Argentina.Credit:Stuart Walmsley/Rugby Australia

In Australia too, despite the outpouring of joy at this way of doing the anthem there has been criticism, lead by Anthony Mundine, who says that no matter what language the anthem is sung in, it remains “the theme song for the white Australia policy” and the words must be changed.

“It’s like kicking someone when they’re down,” he went on. “The message of the anthem is wrong. It was putting salt into the wound for Aboriginal men. You can’t just sing the same original text in Aboriginal language and think it’s going to fly with people. It got people talking but it still ain’t the right message.”

Fellow rugby league star Latrell Mitchell , who is also a proud Indigenous man, broadly agreed: “When will people understand that changing it to language doesn’t change the meaning!”

Despite these comments running against the tide of joy and enthusiasm, you can see where they and the slew of Indigenous activists and academics who agree – Sydney lawyer Teela Reid noting “it doesn’t change the fact it is a colonial song” – are coming from.

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While the first verse of the anthem that was roughly translated is hardly in itself a theme song for the white Australia policy – apart from the ludicrous line “for we are young and free” to encompass the oldest enduring civilisation on earth in an ancient land – there is no doubt the subsequent verse indeed invokes a spirit of this country being no more than a proud outpost of Britain in the South Seas: “When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,/ To trace wide oceans o’er,/ True British courage bore him on,/ Til he landed on our shore/ Then here he raised Old England’s flag, /The standard of the brave . . . From England soil and Fatherland, Scotia and Erin fair,/ Let all combine with heart and hand,/ To advance Australia fair… / Britannia then shall surely know,/ Though oceans roll between,/ Her sons in fair Australia’s land,/ Still keep their courage green.”

Other criticism has been that singing the first verse in the Dharug language excludes the other 300 Indigenous language groups and . . .

And as you can see, despite the breakthrough, there remains some sorting out to do. As a white Australian my view on which Indigenous language should be used, and when, barely counts, but I might at least note that while both Italy and France were also composed of many different dialects, they sing their national anthem in the languages of the original peoples of Rome and Paris. (I know, I know, the parallel is problematic – but the point remains. While it is wonderful to have made the breakthrough to two languages, taking it up to 300 versions would see the whole thing collapse in on itself.)

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Where to from here?

Having talked to Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan I am convinced of one thing. The reaction has been so strong and so positive, this will become a new tradition, and it will quickly spread to other sports. To address the issues raised by Mundine, Mitchell et al, the solution, for me, is obvious.

The most inclusive and beloved song we have is I Am Australian – the one that is top of the pops for preferred national anthem in any case – and for the next Test it would be really something if the first verse of that could be translated and sung, too.

And then see the goose-bumps, and the enthusiasm. The whole game is changing, and we are getting there!

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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Indigenous language anthem at the Test was a nation-changing moment


From all over our brown and pleasant land, and indeed from around the world, sons and daughters of the Southern Cross reported in: tears, goose-bumps, relief, pride and . . . hope that at last we really have turned the corner.

Interested observers were the Kiwis whose own celebrated tradition in this field began in 1999, before the All Blacks played England at Twickenham, and the Maori singer Hinewehi Mohi gave it her all. It drew a great deal of criticism at the time, but is now all but universally the revered way of singing it.

Olivia Fox sings the national anthem ahead of Wallabies and Argentina.Credit:Stuart Walmsley/Rugby Australia

In Australia too, despite the outpouring of joy at this way of doing the anthem there has been criticism, lead by Anthony Mundine, who says that no matter what language the anthem is sung in, it remains “the theme song for the white Australia policy” and the words must be changed.

“It’s like kicking someone when they’re down,” he went on. “The message of the anthem is wrong. It was putting salt into the wound for Aboriginal men. You can’t just sing the same original text in Aboriginal language and think it’s going to fly with people. It got people talking but it still ain’t the right message.”

Fellow rugby league star Latrell Mitchell , who is also a proud Indigenous man, broadly agreed: “When will people understand that changing it to language doesn’t change the meaning!”

Despite these comments running against the tide of joy and enthusiasm, you can see where they and the slew of Indigenous activists and academics who agree – Sydney lawyer Teela Reid noting “it doesn’t change the fact it is a colonial song” – are coming from.

Loading

While the first verse of the anthem that was roughly translated is hardly in itself a theme song for the white Australia policy – apart from the ludicrous line “for we are young and free” to encompass the oldest enduring civilisation on earth in an ancient land – there is no doubt the subsequent verse indeed invokes a spirit of this country being no more than a proud outpost of Britain in the South Seas: “When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,/ To trace wide oceans o’er,/ True British courage bore him on,/ Til he landed on our shore/ Then here he raised Old England’s flag, /The standard of the brave . . . From England soil and Fatherland, Scotia and Erin fair,/ Let all combine with heart and hand,/ To advance Australia fair… / Britannia then shall surely know,/ Though oceans roll between,/ Her sons in fair Australia’s land,/ Still keep their courage green.”

Other criticism has been that singing the first verse in the Dharug language excludes the other 300 Indigenous language groups and . . .

And as you can see, despite the breakthrough, there remains some sorting out to do. As a white Australian my view on which Indigenous language should be used, and when, barely counts, but I might at least note that while both Italy and France were also composed of many different dialects, they sing their national anthem in the languages of the original peoples of Rome and Paris. (I know, I know, the parallel is problematic – but the point remains. While it is wonderful to have made the breakthrough to two languages, taking it up to 300 versions would see the whole thing collapse in on itself.)

Loading

Where to from here?

Having talked to Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan I am convinced of one thing. The reaction has been so strong and so positive, this will become a new tradition, and it will quickly spread to other sports. To address the issues raised by Mundine, Mitchell et al, the solution, for me, is obvious.

The most inclusive and beloved song we have is I Am Australian – the one that is top of the pops for preferred national anthem in any case – and for the next Test it would be really something if the first verse of that could be translated and sung, too.

And then see the goose-bumps, and the enthusiasm. The whole game is changing, and we are getting there!

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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Australian national anthem sung in a First Nations language before Wallabies-Pumas rugby Test



Wallabies players have sung the Australian national anthem in both Eora language and English ahead of the Tri Nations Test against Argentina at the Western Sydney Stadium.

It is the first time the anthem has been performed in a First Nations language before a Wallabies Test.

Wiradjuri woman Olivia Fox, from the Newtown Performing Arts School, led the rendition in Eora language.

The Wallabies players joined Ms Fox in singing the anthem in Eora language during the traditional pre-match ceremonies.

Advance Australia Fair was then performed in English.

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The decision to sing the anthem in Eora drew widespread praise on Twitter.

Samoa international Paul Alo-Emile, who represented Australia at the under 20 level, welcomed the move.

“How great was that!,” Alo-Emile tweeted.

“Listening to the Aussie anthem being sung in the Eora language of the Gadigal people. Inspiring stuff, well done.”

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Australian Paralympic gold medallist Richard Colman described the moment as “incredible”.

“As an athlete, every time the Australian anthem is performed it should be done this way,” Colman tweeted.

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Syndey-based Jamie Pandaram rugby journalist said singing the anthem in a First Nations language was “a great step forward”.

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The Wallabies wore the First Nations jersey for the Test against the Pumas, which will close out the Tri Nations tournament.



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Australia vs Argentina national anthem performed in Indigenous language: Video, Olivia Fox, Eora language, Wallabies, Pumas


It received universal praise and was credited as a “great step forward” as the Wallabies produced a historic first for Australian sport.

Olivia Fox from the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts sung Advance Australia Fair in the Eora language before continuing to sing the rest of the anthem in English.

It was the first time the joint-language anthem was performed at an international sporting event in Australia.

Watch Australia v Argentina in the last match of the 2020 Tri Nations. Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly

What made the moment even more touching was the fact all Wallabies players sung the first half of the national anthem in the Eora language having learned the words to make sure the moment received the respect it deserved.





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Axing Asian language courses from schools and universities may leave Australia underprepared for the future


When Mailie Ross enrolled in the Hindi language program at La Trobe University, she was hoping to connect with her partner’s Indian heritage and help pass that culture on to her 15-month-old daughter.

But following the university’s proposal to scrap their Hindi, Indonesian and Greek language programs in the face of a tightening budget for humanities courses, Ms Ross may be running out of options to pursue her dream.

“I would be really disappointed if they didn’t maintain something for us,” she said.

La Trobe University in Melbourne and the Australian National University in Canberra host the two remaining university-level Hindi language programs in Australia.

Dr Ian Woolford has coordinated the Hindi language program at La Trobe University for six years and has spent the last two weeks compiling a proposal to the school of Humanities and Social Sciences in an attempt to keep the program alive.

Dr Woolford says Australian diplomats and businesspeople often don’t have the same level of knowledge of events in India as their Indian counterparts have of developments here.(Supplied)

Enrolments in both Hindi and Indonesian at La Trobe University have declined in recent years, he said, putting them on the chopping block as universities struggle with a dip in enrolments.

“They [La Trobe University] know these languages are important, but they’re truly being forced into a terrible position because of the financial situation,” he said.

“Even though the Hindi program might not be a money maker at the moment, it was part of a long-term strategy that was expected to pay off down the road as the Australia-India relationship develops.”

According to the 2016 Census, Hindi was among the fastest growing languages in Australia, with nearly 160,000 people speaking it at home.

And with an estimated 550 million speakers, Hindi is the fourth most-spoken language in the world.

Embassy, academics, community and students in the fight

It’s not just students of Hindi who are concerned.

La Trobe University Indonesian studies lecturer Linda Sukamta told the ABC she was “shocked” when she found out her program may be cut.

A group of people standing together and some of them wearing Indonesian traditional clothes.
Linda Sukamta (second from the left) celebrates Harmony Day with students of La Trobe’s Indonesian language program.(Supplied)

Ms Sukamta said she hoped enough public pressure would help it survive, despite acknowledging enrolments had been declining during the past five years.

In response to the proposed cuts, the Indonesian embassy in Canberra has offered its support by writing a letter to La Trobe University.

The La Trobe Bahasa Indonesia Students Association has created an online petition to save Indonesian language studies.

More than 2,200 people have signed, including members of the wider Indonesian community in Australia.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said the Government does not decide what courses universities cut or continue.

But Professor Edward Aspinall, the President of Asian Studies Association of Australia, said the Government could have a role in stopping the closure of Asian language programs.

A group of people standing outside a campus with papers says Indonesian
La Trobe University has been offering an Indonesian language program for almost 50 years.(Facebook: La Trobe Bahasa Indonesia Students Association)

Earlier this week, Western Australia’s Murdoch University also announced plans to cut its Indonesian language program, which it has offered since the 70s.

A spokesperson said the “difficult decision” to drop it after next year was made due to insufficient demand and funding changes.

“With fewer than 10 enrolments each year over the last three years, it is not a viable offering,” the spokesperson told the ABC.

After hearing about the plan, David T Hill, an Emeritus Professor who taught in the Indonesian program at Murdoch University for more than 25 years, described it as “a horror and shock”.

“A university which has such a long and respected Indonesian language program would take such action at a time when it clearly goes against Australia’s best interest.”

What happened with Australia in the Asian Century?

In 2012, the Gillard government released the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.

Among other things, it outlined the need to improve Australia’s Asian language literacy in order to maintain long-term political and economic relationships in the region.

The Government's white paper 'Australia in the Asian Century'.
It’s been almost a decade since the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper was released.(AAP: Paul Miller)

The paper suggested prioritising the study of four Asian languages: Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

But despite the insistence of the importance of connecting with the region, the ability for Australians to engage in the culture of these nations has diminished over time.

From a peak of six Hindi programs in 1997, La Trobe University’s proposal to scrap their course could leave the Australian National University as the sole university with a dedicated program in the country.

It’s a similar story for Indonesian studies.

In 1992, there were up to 22 university programs available to students across Australia, but there’s now only 14.

Professor Aspinall said the Asian Century report “has been largely been abandoned” by the Federal Government, although there was the New Colombo Plan, under which Australian students are able to visit countries in the region.

Students at the University of New South Wales
International students have been keeping enrolment numbers high in some Asian language courses.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

The Asian Studies Association of Australia has confirmed the number of universities offering an Indonesian language program had “really declined”.

Other Asian language programs, such as Japanese, Chinese, and Korean were “relatively healthy”, but that’s because of the increasing number of enrolment of international students.

“But the numbers there don’t really reflect the development of Asian language capacity among Australian citizens,” Professor Aspinall said.

A ‘shortage’ of Asian experts

In similar fashion, Footscray Primary School has decided to replace its Vietnamese bilingual program with an Italian language one.

A group of parents whose children go to the school have created a petition to save the Vietnamese bilingual program, and it has been signed by more than 17,500 people.

A spokesperson from Footscray Primary School said standalone Vietnamese classes would continue to be taught.

“Unfortunately, the school was not able to recruit Vietnamese bilingual teachers with the skills and language competency required to use the second language in specialist curriculum areas,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Woolford said the paucity of Asian language programs was leaving Australia ill-equipped to navigate its future.

“There’s a huge imbalance here,” he said.

“Indian diplomats and Indian business people know what’s happening on the ground in Australia, because they often have English knowledge, but their Australian counterparts do not have the same knowledge in India.”

Five students hold signs saying "save Viet bilingual program heart FPS" as they stand in front of their school.
Cutting language programs signals that Australia isn’t serious about regional relationships, an expert says.(Supplied)

Diminishing language studies could affect Australia’s future

Dr Woolford said the ABC’s exclusive report, which found the Federal Government used Google Translate for critical public health messaging during the pandemic, exemplified the lack of qualified foreign language professionals in Australia.

“I imagine it would be hard for the Government to find experts in all the languages that it needs, because Australia hasn’t properly invested in community languages over the years,” he said.

“So while they very correctly understood the need to get information out in as many languages as possible, there probably was a shortage of experts to call on to get this done.”

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) has consistently voiced their concern on this topic.

In a survey of academics, the organisation identified what they described as a “gradual hollowing out” of Australian expertise in China studies.

Professor Aspinall said the decrease in the study of Asian languages in Australia was “bad” for relationships with countries in the region.

“Because it takes depth out of the relationship,” Professor Aspinall said.

In light of the news coming out of La Trobe University, the ASAA has urged the Government to step in.

“The time is ripe for serious reinvestment in Asia expertise, including by finding ways to safeguard vital programs in Asian languages amidst the current financial shock being experienced in the university sector,” it said.



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