As Australia's economic and cultural ties with China grow stronger by the year, the need for Australians to develop new language skills is growing. Whether conducting business in China or welcoming the rising numbers of inbound visitors, being proficient in Mandarin will become increasingly important.
However, there are significant challenges to improving Australia's Mandarin skills in schools. Here are five factors that need to be addressed.
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1. It's tough to learn. Mandarin is a difficult language to learn and starting early maximises the chance of success. Introducing lessons from an early age is the ideal approach.
2. It requires a big time investment. The Foreign Service Institute in Washington DC estimate that the average English speaker will take around 2,100 hours of tuition to become fluent in Mandarin, compared with 600 hours for a European language. Having it on school curricula is important, but out-of-school coaching resources are also required to become proficient.
3. Students have different starting points. Some students start learning Mandarin from Year 1, while others begin in high school. There is also difference in achievement between those students who have a background in Mandarin compared to those students with no exposure to the language at home. Having study plans that cater for different skill and knowledge levels is vital to ensure long-term success.
4. There's a lack of content. Teachers report a lack of content aimed at older students starting their Mandarin studies. Material aimed at younger children is not appropriate and new resources need to be developed and put to use. There is a great opportunity for teachers to co-create new and exciting Mandarin language courses that are specifically designed for Australian students.
5. Dropout rates are high. Many students who start their studies in primary school fail to continue into their high school years. Careful transition strategies including segmented courses and assessments, and engaging course designs are also needed to help ensure greater numbers continue their studies through to year 12 and beyond.
Addressing these challenges is critical for Australia's future prosperity and we will explore solutions in the next blog post in our Mandarin series.
In the meantime, for more details on the above challenges, see the second paper in our Learning Mandarin in Australian Schools series.
By Katrina Reynen, Industry Manager, Education. More from Katrina on Twitter: @ReynenKatrina