Language policy is labelled a waste

TONY ABBOTT'S ambitious goal to have 40 per cent of high school students study an Asian language within a decade has been branded a multibillion-dollar waste of money.

Four months after Mr Abbott announced his policy, an analysis prepared by Benjamin Herscovitch from the Centre for Independent Studies yesterday dubbed the policy an expensive waste of time.

Mr Herscovitch said Australia's multicultural composition rendered it an Asia-literate country by default.

''Multicultural Australia's diverse composition also means that Asian cultural literacy [language and a knowledge of culture] is being acquired by wide sections of Australian society without the government enacting a policy response of any kind.''

He said an estimated 10 per cent of Australians - or 2.2 million people - spoke an Asian language at home and this, combined with the increasing number of couples being of mixed backgrounds, meant multicultural Australia was mainstream Australia.

Fewer than 6 per cent of secondary students study an Asian language, and just 12 per cent of high school students study any foreign languages at year 12. But Mr Herscovitch maintained that English, rather than being on the wane, remained the world's preferred language, and the case for Australians to adapt to its region's languages had not been made.

However, the executive director of the Asia Education Foundation, Kathe Kirby, branded the report ''selective'' and said businesses were crying out for a more Asia-literate workforce.

Ms Kirby said Australia needed to transform its business with the Asian superpowers from an export relationship to trading in services such as financial services, engineering and marketing.

''Speaking an Asian language isn't just to do with communication; it's also to do with understanding a culture,'' she said. ''And whilst a lot of our current trade with the Asian region is export-based, the future is the export of our services.''

The story Language policy is labelled a waste first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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