A monolingual Australia should be left behind

Wollongong University is expanding its Languages department by adding Indonesian to its list of subjects in the Faculty of Arts.

Indonesian language teacher Susi Cooper says the move is a positive one and that students have already shown interest for the subject, expected to start in 2010.

“If you are going to teach any area of Asian pacific studies, language should be incorporated into that subject,” she said.

Susi Cooper resized

Australia is ranked as the third most monolingual nation in the world, according to a research report released by Griffith University early this week.

The report, Building An Asian-Literature Australia: an Australia Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency, states that Australia must change its “monolingual mindset” to strengthen business and interpersonal relationships; beginning with our closest neighbour, Indonesia.

Professor Wesley undertook this research after identifying a weakness in Australians Asian language abilities at the Australia 2020 summit. The Report recommends that language subjects should be offered in selected high schools and expanded in universities.

Ms Cooper, 57, was born on the island of Sumatra and migrated to Australia in 1981 seeking more career opportunities. She speaks five languages as well as her local Sumatran dialect.

Ms Cooper says she was shocked to realise that learning a second, or third language, was not a high priority in Australian schools.

“In Indonesian, to speak English is a priority. You have to speak English to go further in life. Where if you’re here and if you speak English, that’s it. Most people don’t bother learning anything else.”

Marlee Naylor, 21,is one of a small number of Indonesian language enthusiasts in Australia. She is a first year university student studying a Bachelor of Arts with Indonesian language and Spanish.

“I chose to do Indonesian at university because I love the place and the language. I have always been interested in learning different languages. Indonesia is close to Australia, the people are nice, and there are job opportunities and good waves.”

Marlee is a keen surfer and lives in the small coastal town of Gerringong, an hour south of Wollongong. In a couple of weeks she will visit Indonesia for the third time in as many years.

“I think many Australians would love to be able to speak another language. In saying that, in almost every country people speak English and it is easy to get from place to place. Australians are pretty comfortable in knowing only one language. Generally, I think, the people that learn a different language do it for job opportunities or because they have the passion for languages,” Marlee said.

Australia’s geographical proximity, as well as political and economic ties with Indonesia, means there is a demand for Australians who can speak Indonesian and understand the country’s history and culture.

The Report from Griffith University also suggests that a multi-lingual Australia would be better placed to take advantage of business opportunities when the current economic crisis subsides.

“Building Australia’s Asian literacy offers the chance to position our society to make the most of the post-crisis world.”

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