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Teaching multiple languages in schools

An email to KXNT’s Alan Stock

G’day Alan,

I was most interested by your story about Californian students performing better when they were only taught English.

I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but here in Canberra our primary schools (K-6) have a bilingual program with a second language being taught for about an hour a week. At my primary school we were taught Japanese. From seven years of Japanese I learned how to count to ten, how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, “yes”, “away” and “welcome” and make the noise of a few characters of one of their alphabets.

I continued Japanese in the first year of high school because the education system forced me to. I did no work and got 100% on the first test based on my primary school knowledge, and failed every other test, except for the one where the teacher didn’t notice that the test I handed in was full of her own handwriting…she had given me the answer sheet by accident and I just put my name at the top.

Basically, eight years of my education was wasted on bilingual education, most of which consisted of the class sidetracking the teacher who could waffle on for hours about Japan if prompted, instead of presenting the planned lesson.

English should be the only language mandatorily taught in public schools both here in Australia, and over there in the US. Other languages should either be an optional extra for students old enough to make that decision for themself, or taught outside of school if the parents so desire.

Regards,
Samuel Gordon-Stewart
Canberra, Australia

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#1 Comment By davky On September 24, 2009 @ 3:58 am

This post is hilarious (except for the polemic) – literally made me laugh out loud. Sounds like productive schooling you experienced there, Samuel.

Incidentally, I completely disagree with your argument about learning languages in schools (although I would be interesting to read the study that suggested that kids learn better without foreign language classes.)

I tend to think the more broad the range of skills and forms of knowledge that kids learn at school – the better. So many kids these days don’t know that Paraguay is in Sth America, or can’t name the planets, or can’t use a semi-colon, or can’t name the Federal Opposition Leader….

In my opinion, education has become far too thematic; it focusses on airy-fairy concepts (which do have an important place), but neglects cold, hard knowledge.

For example, I wish they taught grammar in English
or countries in geography class
or explorers in history class
or long division in maths
Maybe things have changed, but when I was at high school, there were no ‘facts,’ just ‘feelings.’

#2 Comment By davky On September 24, 2009 @ 3:59 am

How ironic. I’m complaining about usage of English and then came up with that post. 🙂

I blame it on still being up reading your blog at 4am!

#3 Comment By Samuel On September 24, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

In general Davky I agree with you, the basics aren’t covered as well as they should be.

When it comes to multiple languages though, I think English needs to be the priority. Perhaps if some of the trivial stuff were to be removed from the curriculum in favour of the basics, it would be possible to teach second and third languages without compromising on English.

#4 Comment By Samuel On September 24, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

I had a quick look online and found this news article: [5]

The abstract of the report to which the article refers: [6]

The report itself, which seems to show better results for English-only schooling: [7]

There’s a whole heap more out there if you search for “Sheltered English Immersion”.