The Canberra Region Languages Forum was formed to try to bring together air the many stakeholders in Canberra and the surrounding region who are interested in promoting languages and language learning. The major goal was to share information and ideas to see how forum participants could build on local resources and strengths to improve languages education in the ACT region.
The problems and difficulties in implementing quality language programs in Australian schools are well-known, and seem to have remained much the same in report after report, review after review, for decades. The goal of the forum was to try to do something practical to improve the current situation by harnessing the considerable resources and passion for languages in the ACT community.
The organisers of the forum were encouraged by international and national developments in 2007. The UK and the USA had both committed considerable funding to languages education, while the United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of Languages. In Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for compulsory language study for children aged seven or younger, the Academy of the Humanities and the Group of Eight universities convened a crisis summit on languages, the media seemed to be treating language teaching as a hot topic, and we elected a Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister.
In the ACT, impetus for action came from several quarters. A major player was the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum (CMCF), a peak body representing the local multicultural community, which wanted to follow up calls for action about languages at the ACT Ministerial Multicultural Summit in December 2005 (see ACT Government, 2006, p. 25). There was also considerable concern about the decline in numbers of students taking languages in ACT schools, and the lack of emphasis on learning languages in Every Chance to Learn (2007), the new curriculum framework for ACT schools.
The forum has met twice, the first time in October 2007 and the second in May 2008. Both meetings were organised jointly by the CMCF and the University of Canberra (UC), held at UC, and ran for four hours on Sunday afternoons. There were about 50 people at the October meeting, and the program consisted of a preliminary overview of current language programs and resources in the region followed by addresses from Professor Michael Clyne from The University of Melbourne and Dr Michael Kindler from the ACT Department of Education and Training. After a break, the forum split into discussion groups, which then reported back to the whole forum with suggestions for action.
The forum in May 2008 had over 75 participants. In addition to lecturers from university and TAFE level, parents, children, ethnic school teachers, and community members, there were many more teachers from primary and secondary schools as well as embassy personnel, local politicians, and officials from the ACT Ethnic Schools' Association, Australian Academy of the Humanities, and Australian Council of State School Associations.
The first half of the May forum summarised national and local developments since the first forum, including the outcomes of the National 2020 summit, and had short presentations on local initiatives: a Chinese ethnic school which has achieved accreditation for its Year 11 and 12 courses, bilingual programs in three government schools, and the work of multilingual community radio. The second half of the forum again took the form of break-out groups, which then came together to report on their discussions and suggest future action.
The following sections discuss some of the outcomes of forum activities and how these have intersected with various developments in language learning and teaching in the ACT in 2007 and 2008.
A major outcome of the forum has been increased communication between a wide range of people interested in promoting languages. …