Moving Toward Multiculturalism

As Australia moves toward multiculturalism, under a new curriculum, all primary school students are entitled to learn a language other than English. Although the language that a person speaks is not always the defining mode for his or her culture, it often is. Other mode could be religion, but it is of far less importance.

A population of just 22 millions, Australia should take a closer look at what lies just beyond our shores. So let’s us see the languages spoken in the world today. The following list is taken from George Weber: number of speakers, native and foreign, in parentheses, which I believe, is the most accurate estimates.

  1.     Mandarin (1.12 billion)
  2.     English (480 million)
  3.     Spanish (320 million)
  4.     Russian (285 million)
  5.     French (265 million)
  6.     Hindi/Urdu (250 million)
  7.     Arabic (221 million)
  8.     Portuguese (188 million)
  9.     Bengali (185 million)
  10.     Japanese (133 million)
  11.     German (109 million)

Mandarin comes on top and, in the Asian region, Hindi is second. In the years ahead, India and China, each having a population of over 60 times Australian population, would have a great impact on global issues.

It’s not surprising to note that the Australian assessment authority in the school system is working to develop curriculums for several languages, including Hindi and Mandarin.

These are languages that should be open to a lot of, or even all, Australians, because these countries are evolving into giants at our door steps. If we’re going to invest in India or China, or to encourage them to invest in Australia, we’ve to know how to communicate with these people.

Of course, English would be paramount in our communication, but as Australia globalises, having a second language from members of our community would be an added asset. A quarter of our workforce, or around six millions of Australians were born overseas; many of whom already have a second language: Mandarin Spanish, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, etc.

In fact, we should have already tapped into these existing talents. In a sense, these foreign-born Australians are little ambassadors for our country. They have been there; they know the culture, the nuance, their body language. They click and understand each other far quicker than a locally born would.

Most students aspiring to become migration agents were disappointed when they realised they have to sit for an international English Language test. Of course having a high level of communication skill is important, but what MARA, the regulating body, didn’t realize is that having a second language is part of that communication skill. English, though important, isn’t the sole skill.

In the extreme case and as an example if we were to talk AFL to foreigners, it is just like an unintelligent language to them.

“What’s AFL?” the foreigner would ask, and it would be a hell of a kind to explain what it is.

But if we shift our conversation to cricket or football, we’ll just click. The fact that communication skill is just measured by the level of English isn’t conducive to Australia’s path to multiculturalism. It would well serve Australia to tap into these hidden talents that our existing community have already process.

A lost talent, a lost cause, it would be much better to have recognized the usefulness of a second language as communication skill for aspiring migrant agents.

~ by Joel Huan on March 25, 2012.

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