Language Options for Australians


William W. Bostock


Current Affairs Bulletin, 69, 5 (October) 1992, pp17-25.

(ISSN 0011-3182)


Key Words: language, policy, Australia


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Ninth Biennial National Languages Conference, Darwin, 1992.


Being an English-speaking country means that second language learning does not have the same pressing urgency for Australia that it does for many other countries.  Even so, the need for skills in other languages for export industries, tourism and intellectual and cultural development has been expressed by official committees of enquiry, industry leaders and educational authorities, such that Australians' traditional second language option, none at all, is being viewed with disquiet.  There is also evidence that now widely travelling general public are creating a large demand for language classes: for example in 1991 one Melbourne College of TAFE was offering 53 language classes in languages ranging from Arabic to Thai. (Holmeglen College of TAFE, 1991)


The uniqueness of Australia's situation as predominantly a nation of Europeans located near to Asia and somewhere between Africa and South America creates a problem and a challenge (Clyne: 1990) but what are the language options?


This paper will attempt to clarify this question though ultimately the choice can only be made by the individual.  Here an attempt will be made to give answers to those questions most commonly asked by the intending student: which languages are recommended by government, are all languages and cultures equal or are some more intellectually and culturally developed than others; which are the most powerful languages; which are easier or more difficult to learn; which languages give access to other languages within a language family; what is the cost involved in travel to an area or country where a language is spoken by a majority of the population and the possibility of support for such travel; which languages are needed in export industries, in tourism to Australia, and in overseas development work; which have official status in one or more countries and in international organisations; which are the most frequently spoken languages within Australia; and finally what is the educational availability of a language for study at school and continuing on to tertiary levels?. 


There are also many important matters that this paper cannot attempt to answer: for example the most appropriate of teaching methods, the process of making decisions about languages by educational providers, and the issue of freedom or compulsion in language study. 


All governments recognise the extreme importance of language policy and all nations have a language policy.  Often it is implicit and sometimes it is secret or covert, designed to reduce or eliminate a particular language in favour of another.  Many of the tragic civil wars of today have their origins, at least in part, in those kinds of policies as implemented decades or even centuries ago.  Often nations have an official language policy based on an assumption or intention as to desired future situations.  In the 1980s Australia developed such a national policy, which explicitly stated the desired future language development of the nation, after several official enquiries seeking submissions from all interested persons and groups.


When it was released in 1987 the National Policy on Languages (also known as the Lo Bianco Report) was adopted by Parliament as the official language policy of Australia.  In addition to its statement on the fundamental place of English, the policy recommended that all Australian students should have the opportunity to study at least one language other than English, but recommended against compulsion as this would lead to poor learning.  With regard to language options the report recognised two categories of language:  firstly the mother tongue for those students whose language at home is one other than English, that is a 'community language', where possible, and secondly, one or more languages from a group of nine identified 'languages of wider learning' which would balance Australia's domestic and external needs.  Those languages were Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Greek, Indonesian/ Malaysian*, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.  The policy also advised that the teaching of any language desired by any school would be educationally and culturally warranted and therefore encouraged, and also that Aboriginal languages were a special case in need of special assistance.


In 1991 the National Language Policy received some redefinition in a Policy Information Paper called Australia's Language, the Australian Language and Literacy Policy.  This report noted with alarm that while in the 1960s about 40% of final year students studied a language other than English, that figure is today less than 12% many of whom were moreover native speakers. (Australia's Language, 1991: 15).  The report sought to downplay the importance of community languages, stating that


'The establishment of priorities is complicated by the wide range of language groups represented in our community.'


and went on to state that


'Priority attention must be given to languages of broader national interest to Australia'.  (Australia's Language, 1991, p.15)


The Report was critical of the situation where 24% of year 12 students study French while only 6% study Indonesian/Malaysian*.  The report drew attention to the language needs of exporters, which were identified as Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Indonesian/Malaysian, Korean, Thai, Spanish, German and French, in that order, and declared that Asian Studies including Asian languages would be made an additional priority area for additional higher education places.


The National Language Policy has thus changed from its earlier position of neutrality between community languages and languages of wider learning to a position of a stronger level of support for the export income related languages (though making an exception for Aboriginal languages) in a final order to be negotiated with the State and Territory authorities.  The languages selected must be from a core of fourteen priority languages (in alphabetical order):


Aboriginal languages, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian/Malaysian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Russian, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese


Four of Australia's largest community languages: Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Dutch and Macedonian were thus downgraded in status to that of non-priority languages in the new version of the Language Policy.  Schools could still teach these languages but they would not qualify for the $300 per capita that the Federal Government would pay for year 12 students undertaking the study of a priority languages.  In discussing this policy shift, Clyne has observed that


'. . . economic strategies have precedence over social justice.' (Clyne, 1991: 19)


Thus in official policy there is clear indication that government is aware of the need for language study and has attempted to prioritise needs with the group of fourteen especially selected languages.  It is necessary to discuss this policy in the light of some anthropological and linguistic considerations.



While it has been traditional to label some languages and cultures as 'primitive' or underdeveloped there is no evidence to support this popularly held view.  Language is the vehicle of expression of culture and while cultures can be classified according to material or technological achievement, in other areas of development such as, for example, human


*In this paper this language will be called "Indonesian/Malaysian".  "Indonesian is virtually the same language as Malay" (Katzner, 1977: 233).  Since 1969 Malay has been officially named Bahasa Malaysia, and in 1972 an agreement was signed between the Indonesian and Malaysian Governments creating a Bahasa Indonesia - Bahasa Malaysia Council, an international body to oversee the coordination and development of the jointly controlled language (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1977).

organisation there may be no correlation.  As an illustration one could cite the view of the famous anthropologist LŽvi-Strauss


'In all matters touching on the organisation of the family and the achievement of harmonious relations between the family group and the social group, the Australian Aborigines, though backward in the economic sphere, are so far ahead of the rest of mankind that, to understand the careful and deliberate systems of rules they have elaborated, we have to use the refinements of modern mathematics'.  (LŽvi-Strauss in Kuper, 1975: 14)


Every culture is thus a potentially rewarding source of study in one or another of its values and specialisations and is a part of a community which created and developed it as a means of survival within an environment:  economic, political, social and physical and as such is a reflection of the dignity of its members.  In addressing the question of whether there is a hierarchy of cultures and languages Leiris, another famous anthropologist,  commented that


'The truth is that all cultures have their successes and failures, their faults and virtues.  Even language, the instrument and channel of thought, cannot serve as a yardstick to measure their relative worth; extremely rich grammatical forms are found in the speech of peoples without a written language and regarded as uncivilised.'  (Leiris in Kuper, 1975: 165)


Thus all languages are equal in the anthropological sense of being a valid and often exceedingly complex expression of the culture of a human speech community, and therefore in the intellectual and often spiritual rewards that the study of that language would bring to its student.  This benefit of language study could be called personal intellectual and cultural enrichment and is potentially equal for all languages which therefore makes it impossible to give a definitive answer to the question of the perfect language option(s) for Australians.


Putting potential for personal intellectual and cultural enrichment to one side, obviously languages vary greatly in usefulness and prestige, and it is possible and in fact necessary to examine hierarchies of languages, though bearing in mind that positions on hierarchies are not likely to be permanent, and that the relative position of a language in each hierarchy will probably differ.



Various measures of language power have been proposed.  Mackey (1973) has introduced three concepts: language power, language attraction and language pressure, with methods of quantification.  The power of a language is seen as a product of the demography, dispersion, mobility, wealth, ideological (including religious) commitment and cultural productivity of the speakers of that language.  The attraction of a language is provided through the status, territorial proximity and interlingual proximity of its speakers, while language pressure is the shift in language use, diglossia, (several forms of the same language), linguistic borrowing and bilingual interference that results from a situation of imbalance between two language communities.  While the third of these concepts is highly relevant to the study of community language groups in Australia, it is the first two, language power and language attraction that are relevant to a clear formulation of the language options confronting Australians and it is useful to use a modified version of the Mackey scheme.  Measures of both of these criteria will be necessary as absolute world language power may well be exceeded by the attraction of closer proximity of lesser languages in the world ranking.  In addition, high ranking on several of these criteria can never be the final deciding factor because of the presence of the intellectual and cultural enrichment factor which can be given any subjective value by the 'investor' in a language.  In other words the language of one's parents, no matter how few the speakers that language may have, could have greater value to oneself than one of the powerful world languages.


Taking the languages identified officially as priority languages for Australia plus the three major non-priority community languages of Serbo-Croatian, Polish and Dutch and other non-priority but major world languages of Hindi-Urdu and Portuguese the following information can be presented, though it must be emphasised that the estimates are at best speculative.

Number of Speakers Worldwide


                                                                                                Million speakers 1984


                        Chinese Mandarin                                           755

                        English                                                                        490 (1)

                        Hindi-Urdu                                                                 352 (2)

                        Spanish                                                                       275

                        Russian                                                                       267

                        Arabic                                                             166

                        Portuguese                                                                  157

                        Indonesian/Malaysian                                     122

                        Japanese                                                                      121

                        German                                                                       118

                        French                                                             110

                        Punjabi                                                                          69 (1)

                        Korean                                                                          63

                        Italian                                                                62

                        Vietnamese                                                                    48

                        Polish                                                                39

Serbo-Croatian                                                              20 (2)

                        Dutch                                                                20

                        Greek                                                                11


(1) Introduced for comparative purposes

(2) Language with more than one writing system



(i) In view of the uniqueness of their situation, Aboriginal languages will only be introduced to those criteria  where considered relevant.


(ii) This table does not make a distinction between speakers of a language as mother tongue (L1) or second or third language (L2 or L3)


Source: Quid, 1986: 90


Number of Countries where Language has Official Status


                        English                                                                        45(1)

                        French                                                             30

                        Spanish                                                                       21

                        Arabic                                                             21

                        Portuguese                                                                    6

                        German                                                                         4

                        Indonesian/Malaysian                                       4

                        Chinese Mandarin                                             3

                        Dutch                                                                3

                        Italian                                                                3

                        Korean                                                                          2

                        Greek                                                                2

                        Russian                                                                         1 (currently                                                                                                    under revision)

                        Vietnamese                                                                    1

                        Thai                                                                               1

                        Polish                                                               1

                        Serbo-Croatian                                                              1 (currently

                                                                                                            under revision)


(1) Introduced for comparative purposes


This table makes no distinctions concerning size, spread of literacy, or percentage of the population speaking the language with official status.


Source: Crystal, 1987: 357


The obvious and justifiable question posed by every prospective language student 'how easy is it to learn?' is not easily answered.  All natural languages have complex grammar and simplicity in one respect (e.g. no word-endings) may be compensated for in another such as word order.  In addition, all languages have exceptions to their grammar rules.  This has led one expert to conclude that


". . .there is no evidence to suggest that some languages are in the long term 'easier for children to learn' than others - though in the short term some linguistic features may be learned at different rates by the children of speakers of different languages."  (Crystal, 1987: 6)


For young people with English as their mother tongue, Chinese and Japanese would be more difficult than a European language.  McCormack (1988: 40) cites an estimate that the time and effort required to learn a character-based Asian language is about eight times required to learn a European language.  Another estimate of comparative learning ease by a US Government agency is cited by Ingleson.  This recommends an average of 840 hours for European languages, 1140 hours for Indonesian/Malaysian and Hindi, 1800 hours for Thai and Vietnamese and 2400 hours for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, to achieve basic proficiency (Ingleson, 1989: 113).

It is beyond the scope of this paper to attempt to assess the various estimates of comparative learning ease and so therefore a very simple classification can be proposed in terms of the criterion of writing system, such that those languages with a Roman alpahabet are seen as one division, those with an alphabet other than Roman or a modified form of Roman alphabet a middle division, and those that are entirely ideographic as a last division.


Ease of Learning as a Second Language


Division I (Roman Alphabet)              Croatian, Dutch, French, German

                                                                        Indonesian/Malaysian, Italian,            

                                                                        Portuguese, Spanish


Division II (Non-Roman:                    Arabic, Korean, Greek, Russian

or modified Roman alphabet)              Serbian, Thai, Vietnamese


Division III (Ideographic):                  Chinese, Japanese


Note: Serbian and Croatian are generally considered one language known as Serbo-Croatian.  Serbians call their language Serbian and write it in a modified Cyrillic alphabet, while Croatians call their language Croatian and use the Roman alphabet. (Katzner, 1977: 95-96)




Many languages have a strong family relationship to other languages while others are isolated, having developed more or less independently. For example, some Aboriginal languages are closely related to others, or Italian which is related to Catalan, French, Provencal, Romanian and Spanish. Family relationship or interlingual distance is difficult to measure as there are in the view of Mackey (1973: 22) as yet no indices of linguistic differences.  However a three division scheme can be proposed


Language Family Relationship

Division I High Family Relationship: Aboriginal languages, Arabic,                                                                                     Chinese Mandarin, Dutch, French,                                                                 German, Indonesian/Malaysian,                                                                      Italian, Polish, Portuguese,                                                                              Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish,                                                                  Thai


Division II Limited Family                  Greek, Vietnamese



Division III Independent                                 Japanese, Korean


Source: Katzner, 1977 (for individual languages).  Katzner (1977: 219) takes the view than no definite link has been established between Japanese and any other language, living or dead, although Chinese ideographic characters were adopted in the 3rd century AD and there is some slight resemblance in grammatical structure to Korean.



Sooner or later a language student will want to visit a major concentration of speakers.  Although Australia is among the world's most highly multilingual countries, many of these speakers of community languages are shy about using their language with strangers for various reasons such as lack of formal education, use of a non-standard variety, or desire to become assimilated.  It has moreover been recommended that students should be required to spend time in a country where the language they are studying is spoken as part of their courses.  (Ingleson,1989)


Travel Cost from Australia to Area of Major Mass of Speakers

Category I (lowest)                 :           Indonesian/Malaysian, Thai


Category II (medium)  :           Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Korean

                                                            Vietnamese, Dutch, French, German,                                                                         Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian


Category III (high):                 Arabic, Polish, Portuguese*, Russian,                                                                        Serbo-Croatian, Spanish*

*Latin American countries: European countries would be Category III.


Note: these figures are based on current air travel costs and are therefore subject to fluctuation in fares and availability of services.


Another relevant factor in the choice of language options is the generous support to students given by some governments (including the Australian Government) through scholarships and language assistants' positions, which for obvious reasons cannot be matched by all.


Availability of Support for Overseas Language Study, in ranked order


Category I       (high): Japanese, German, French, Italian


Category II      (medium):        Chinese, Greek, Thai, Vietnamese,                                                     Spanish, Indonesian/Malaysian


Category III     (low or none): all other languages


Source: personal communication, a senior education administrator.




Great emphasis has been justifiably given to the need for language skills to assist in Australia's export industries.


Countries Australia Exported to: 1989-90 as a percentage of total exports


            Japan                                                   26.07

            USA                                                    10.88

            Korea                                        5.45

            New Zealand                             5.29

            Singapore                                              3.98

            Taiwan                                                  3.73

            UK                                                        3.53

            Hong Kong                                           2.69

            Germany (Federal Rep)                         2.49

            People's Republic of China       2.43

            Netherlands                               2.15

            Italy                                                       2.12


Source:  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, quoted in Australia's Language, 1991: 24.


The significance of this table for language learning is that only about 20 percent of Australia's exports are sold to English-speaking markets.  It does not show the potential that could be developed in many markets, which must be serviced through other languages.  The large volume of exports to Japan is mainly in unprocessed commodities such as coal, iron ore, wool and natural gas and therefore not requiring a large amount of language help after the signing of the initial contracts, however a number of surveys of the language needs of exporters have been taken.  In her research among Australian exporters, Valverde reported that the main languages that will be needed in the future are, in order of importance: Japanese, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, Indonesian/Malaysian and German. (Valverde, 1991: 30)


Another survey found that the languages most in demand in a trading environment were, in order of priority: Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, Indonesian/Malaysian, Korean, Thai, Spanish, German and French.  (AACLAME, quoted in Australia's Language, 1991: 16)


International tourist visits to Australia are another very important source of foreign currency earnings.


Country of Residence of Overseas Visitors Intending to Stay Between 1 week and 1 month in Australia 1988


            New Zealand                                                   331,000

            USA                                                                            193,300

            Japan                                                                           175,400

            UK                                                                                87,700

            Singapore                                                                      35,700

            Canada                                                                          32,200

            Hong Kong                                                                   29,200

            Malaysia                                                                        24,600

            Germany                                                                       20,700

            Papua New Guinea                                           15,800

            Indonesia                                                                       14,000

            New Caledonia                                                              11,300

            Italy                                                                                 9,600

            France                                                                 8,200

            Switzerland                                                                     7,300

            Netherlands                                                         7,000

            Thailand                                                                          6,800

            Philippines                                                                      5,300

            Fiji                                                                                   4,600


Source:  Year Book Australia, 1990: 381.


This information again points to the significance of languages other than English: about a third of Australia's international tourists come from countries where English is not an official language, Japan being by far the most important.  It should be noted also that controversy has arisen over the efficacy of current Japanese teaching in Australia and a proposal to bring 2000 Japanese tour guides to Australia.  (Matchett, 1991: 17)




Many prospective language students seek careers in international affairs through diplomacy or an official agency, while some current students are already placed by their careers in situations involving the need for such language expertise.


A reliable indicator of the position of a language in international affairs is its status as an official language of international organisations.  Taking the priority languages of Australia (except Aboriginal languages) and the largest non-priority community languages and Portuguese, in alphabetic order, it is possible to note some official statuses in some important selected organisations.


Official Language Status in Selected International Organisations


Arabic:            General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council of UN, (since 1977)

            Food and Agriculture Organisation

            Arab League

            Organisation of African Unity

            League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


Chinese Mandarin:      United Nations


French:            United Nations

            European Community

            Council of Europe

            Food and Agriculture Organisation

            Agency of Cultural and Technical Cooperation (Francophonie)

            Organisation of the African and Mauritian Community

            Organisation of African Unity

            Organisation of Afro-Asian and Latin American Solidarity

            Latin Union

            Italo-Latin American Institute

            International Court of Justice

            League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


German:          European Community

            Council of Europe (working language)


Greek: European Community


Indonesian/      Bahasa Indonesia - Bahasa Malaysia Council



Italian: European Community

            Council of Europe

            Latin Union

            Italo-Latin American Institute


Japanese:         . . .


Korean:           . . .


Polish: . . .


Portuguese:     European Community

            Latin Union

            Italo-Latin American Institute


Russian:          United Nations

            Council for Mutual Economic Assistance

            Danube Commission


Serbo-Croatian:           . . .


Spanish:          United Nations

            European Community

            Food and Agriculture Organisation

            Organisation of Central American States

            Organisation of Afro-Asian and Latin American Solidarity

            Organisation of American States

            Latin Union

            Office of Ibero-American Education

            League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


Thai:    . . .


Vietnamese:     . . .


Sources: Osmanczyk, 1985; Quid, 1986; Yearbook of International Organizations, 1986.




A major motivation for language learning for some students is the desire to work in a developing country.  Which languages would be of greatest relevance?

Relevance of Languages in Development Assistance Work: Taking Infant Mortality as an Index of Development Assistance Need


Language         Selected Country         Infant Mortality *


French Burkina Faso   137.6

            Madagascar     120.0

            Haiti    117.0

            France     7.8


Portuguese      Angola            137.0

                        Portugal             14.2


Spanish           Peru     122.3

                        Bolivia 110.0

                        Mexico              47.0

                        Cuba      13.3

                        Spain       8.5 (1985)


Arabic Yemen 115.7

                        Morocco            82.1

                        Egypt     45.1


Indonesian/Malaysian Indonesia           84.0

                        Malaysia            24.1


Vietnamese      Vietnam             64.3


Aboriginal Languages Australian Aborigines   60.0„

                        Australia              8.7


Thai                 Thailand            39.9


Chinese languages       China     32.4


Dutch  Suriname           30.5

                        Netherlands         7.6


Russian           (former) USSR             25.4


Serbo-Croatian            (former) Yugoslavia      25.1


Korean            Korea - Republic of       24.8

                        Korea - Democratic Rep of       24.5


Polish  Poland   17.5


Greek  Greece   12.6


Italian  Italy         9.3


German           Austria                9.8

                        (former) German Dem Rep         8.3

                        (former) German Fed Rep           8.3


Japanese          Japan       5.0#


Note: *Infant Mortality is number of deaths of infants under 1 year per 1,000 live births and excluding foetal deaths, for 1987.


            „Estimate from various sources, official and non-official where no separate statistics are kept (Osborne, 1982: 21-23).


            #In fact the world's lowest. The next lowest is Finland with 5.9, followed by Sweden with 6.1


Source: United Nations Demographic Yearbook, 1991: 342-346.




The overriding constraint upon students' language options is availability at the time of enrolment and the possibility of continuity.  The fact that there are often major problems in these areas has been acknowledged by both Government and Opposition, but short of direct political action in the form of letters to politicians, mass meetings, demonstrations, etc. which are common over language policy issues in many countries but not in Australia, there is little prospective student can do, and is thus beyond the scope of this paper.  What are the current offerings at Year 12 and at tertiary level?


Languages Studies at Year 12, 1990

            Number of Students


            French 5,025

            German           2,925

            Japanese          2,536

            Italian  2,415

            Chinese Mandarin       2,078

            Modern Greek 1,758

            Indonesian/Malaysian 1,235

            Vietnamese         676

            Spanish              552

            Latin       318

            Arabic    248

            Hebrew              235

            Croatian              193

            Turkish               183

            Macedonian        140

            Polish     138

            Russian                90

            Serbian-Croatian              63

            Khmer      34

            Hungarian            32

            Dutch       24

            Ukrainian             24

            Ancient Greek      15

            Latvian                 15

            Lithuanian            11

            Czech       11

            Slovenian               9

            Swedish                 2

            Estonian                 1

            Maltese                   1


Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, in Australia's Language, Companion Volume, 1991: 69.


Languages in Award Courses in Higher Education 1990


                        Number of Students (EFTSU)

            Japanese          1,998

            French 1,295

            Italian     885

            German              764

            Chinese Mandarin          587

            Spanish              428

            Indonesian/Malaysian    408

            Greek (Modern)             392

            Russian              168

            Vietnamese           70

            Arabic      58

            Hebrew                55

            Korean                 48

            Thai          19

            Croatian                16

            Polish       14

            Ukrainian             13

            Turkish                 11

            Swedish               10

            Hindi          9

            Macedonian            8

            Serbian                   8

            Dutch         7

            Bengali and Hindi-Urdu                 6

            Portuguese             3

            Slovenian               3

            Czech         1

            Lao             1

            Lithuanian              1

            Serbo-Croatian                   1

            Urdu           1


Source: Leal, Bettoni and Malcolm (1991), "Widening Our Horizons" quoted in Australia's Language, Companion Volume, 1991, p.70.


Another factor which prospective students should take account of particularly those seeking to qualify in the severe competition for university entrance, is whether a language is one in use in the community.  If the student has a family background in that language, its study may well be an advantage, whereas if the student is coming from outside that particular community he or she may well be at a serious disadvantage in relation to a major body of native-speakers who are also presenting themselves as candidates for the same examination. (Ingleson, 1989:116), (Louie, Edwards and Freidlein, 1991)


Major Languages other than English spoken with Australia in 1986


            Italian  415,765

            Greek  277,472

            Serbo-Croatian, Croatian, Serbian

            or Yugoslav*  140,575

            Chinese           139,100

            Arabic 119,187

            German           111,276

            Spanish             73,961

            Polish    68,638

            Vietnamese        65,856

            Dutch    62,181

            Maltese              59,506

            French   52,790

            Macedonian       45,610

            Aboriginal languages    40,790


* It is not clear whether this includes Slovenian.

Source: ABS quoted in Australia's Language, 1991: 17.


Note: The Policy Statement Australia's Language eschews the use of the terms 'community language' and 'economic language' on the grounds that the two categories are not mutually exclusive.  (Australia's Language, Companion Volume, 1991: 10).




Having examined a number of different criteria of language suitability for various purposes, it is now time to list the 18 languages considered in this article:  the 14 officially selected priority languages, the 3 major non-priority community languages and one other major international language not officially selected as a priority language.

Combined Table


In the light of the above information it is possible to make the following table of comparison based on admittedly highly imprecise evaluations recorded simply as high (H), medium (M) or low (L).  The presence of an unquantifiable factor of intellectual and cultural enrichment, recorded as unquantifiable (X), makes any calculation of the best language or best combination of language options impossible.


Language Policy and Practice: an Overall View


"Language policy-making and language-in-education planning in Australia have, undoubtedly been far ahead of most of the rest of the English-speaking world."  (Ingram, 1992, p.20)


While policy has in most respects been extremely enlightened, practice has been less than satisfactory: of a total of Australia's tertiary education population of over 500,000*, only about 10,000 are undertaking language study, in other words one in every 40 students.  Even allowing for the supremacy and near-universality of English as a language of wider communication, this is inadequate for the needs of economic and commerce as has been forcefully argued by Ingram (1992).  It is also inadequate for the needs of intellectual and cultural enrichment as Lo Bianco (1987) has argued.  Although compulsion in language studies has been recommended by Wilson, for example, (1991: 46), this is unlikely to receive official approval and implementation.


The unsatisfactory nature of language education practice is reflected in the enormous interest by adults in learning languages through extension classes, TAFE, adult education, 'third age' universities and private initiatives.


In seeking to clarify the range of language options confronting Australians, it has become obvious that the final choice can only be made by the individual in terms of his or her own interpretation of a wide range of information about languages, such as that given above, and personal values.


*Higher Education, excluding TAFE.



Australia, Year Book Australia, (1990). Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.


Australia's Language, The Australian Language and Literacy Policy, Policy Information Paper (1991).  Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.


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