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Australia’s “Asia Literate” plan fails: more students learning Latin than Chinese

Bilingual Students

Bilingual Students

Asian language teaching in Australian schools has declined to the point where more year 12 students are studying Latin than Chinese.

Despite China’s growing importance and the Gillard government‘s goal of creating an ”Asia Literate” society by 2025, fewer high school students who don’t speak Chinese at home are learning the language than four years ago.

Jane Orton, director of the Chinese Teacher Training Centre at the University of Melbourne, said: ”After six years of bits and pieces, half an hour a week, they have no way of remembering the language, let alone mastering it, so the majority decide when leaving primary school that they’re not going to go on learning.”

Experts say the problem stems from badly structured programs and incentives rather than a lack of student interest or teacher capabilities, as demonstrated by the achievement of some schools to create bilingual programs despite little support.


At Richmond West Primary School children spend about half their week learning in Chinese and students are ”genuinely bilingual”, according to Australia’s Chinese-speaking ambassador to China, Frances Adamson, speaking after she visited the school in November.

The school’s acting principal, Lloyd Mitchell, said there had been a groundswell of interest from families of all backgrounds and yet his Year 6 students face the ”ludicrous” situation of having no high school that can accommodate them.

”You’ve got the government talking about the Asian Century white paper, but doing nothing,” he said.

At high school level, numbers of non-native-speaking Chinese language students have declined since the Howard and Rudd governments, largely because they are forced to compete against native-speakers in tertiary entrance exams, experts say.

Dr Orton, who is the author of Australia’s only comprehensive report on Chinese language education, said: ”There are actually fewer classroom learners of Chinese, who don’t speak Chinese at home, taking Chinese at senior levels than there were four years ago.”

At year 12, the number in Victoria has shrunk to about 150 compared with more than 200 studying Latin, she said, adding that Victoria had the most successful program in the country.

Source: News.com.au – Hands up for a better Asian language plan

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


5 thoughts on “Australia’s “Asia Literate” plan fails: more students learning Latin than Chinese

  1. I do think It’s a necessary language just like Spanish is in this global marketplace. It is sad that these children will not be able to further their skills in a more advanced setting like high school.

    Posted by Lil' Bebe Academy | April 1, 2013, 20:37
  2. I was in Victoria on a teaching exchange for one year. I was to teach Business but was asked, at the last minute to teach French. I was shocked! It never occurred to me that French was a language of interest in Australia. As I visited some of the local area schools, I found that languages such as Italian and German were taught, as well as Indonesian. The problem seems to be with getting qualified teachers, especially in rural areas, more than lack of interest.

    Posted by cteachr | April 2, 2013, 10:13
  3. I think one of the main problems is students who speak Chinese at home studying Chinese at school. Perhaps their motivation is to improve their university entrance score. Unfortunately, they can intimidate their classmates with their language proficiency or make classmates with ideas of duxing the subject feel they can’t compete.

    I think the solution would be to create a rule that students are not allowed to study the language of their parents from 7-12. You could then create language corners in schools for people to then practice, and here everyone would be involved.

    Posted by redearthbluesky | April 3, 2013, 10:52


  1. Pingback: Australia’s “Asia Literate” plan fails: more students learning Latin than Chinese | China Daily Mail - April 6, 2013

  2. Pingback: Australia’s Asian Century talk is empty; language funding falls short | Craig Hill - April 17, 2013

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