Barriers that prevent students from choosing to learn a language
Fewer students are choosing language courses at school, but contrary to popular perception, it is not just a lack of interest that is causing the decline. My recent study suggests that students want to study a language, but cannot.
Elective language courses continue to have the lowest registrations compared to other subjects. In 2020, only 9.5% of Year 12 students were studying languages. This is the lowest figure in the last decade.
Learning another language is important in our globally connected world and has personal, societal and economic interests advantages. These include improved cognitive functions and cultural sensitivity. Language learners develop a better understanding of nature of language and communication and languages can improve employment opportunities.
I conducted an online survey of over 500 students in grades 9-12, asking them about their attitudes towards school and language learning. I have discovered that there are three main obstacles that prevent students from reaping the rewards of language study.
1. Lack of options
Not being able to study the language he prefers is a major obstacle. Some 55% of students surveyed in my study said that their school did not offer the desired language. A boy said: “I want to learn European languages but my school does not offer any”.
2. Time restrictions
Students encounter obstacles from their school timetable arrangements. One boy said he couldn’t study French and Chinese because the two subjects were scheduled at the same time. Another boy said, “I’m interested in continuing with a second language, but I can’t integrate it into other subject choices”. Indeed, students often only have room for a maximum of six subjects on their timetable. In grade 12, this can fall to four.
3. Languages are rarely a prerequisite for study
At higher levels, students begin to think about the subjects they need for their future studies, leading to students prioritizing certain subjects over others. Although interested in one language, other subjects are perceived as most important for study and career paths. “I probably would have done French, but I needed a science so I could study to be a pilot,” said one boy. One girl added, “A lot of people don’t study a LOTE because other subjects, like prerequisites, take priority.”
How to get more students to learn languages
To boost language enrollment in upper secondary, languages need to be available and encouraged from early learning through grade 10 to create a pipeline of language students for higher levels.
Ensure that students are familiar with language learning from an early age lay the foundation so that they continue with the languages later.
Additionally, every state needs a language policy that requires schools to teach the recommended times in order for students to engage in this area. The minimum number of hours recommended by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority is 870 in years 6 to 12. As this is a recommendation, these hours are not enforced and differ from state to state.
The most popular reasons why students make a language are:
- speak the language while traveling
- enjoy the challenge
- love the language and the culture.
Parents and teachers need to emphasize these aspects if they want to ensure that their children and students reap the benefits of language learning.