Academic journal article Babel

The Necessity to Redefine Chinese Second Language Learners: A Victorian Case Study

Academic journal article Babel

The Necessity to Redefine Chinese Second Language Learners: A Victorian Case Study

Article excerpt


China is a country of immense importance to Australia for a wide range of economic, strategic and cultural reasons. Having a pool of Australians bilingual in Chinese and English, as well as expert in various areas of commerce and culture, is important to maintain the relationship, to participate independently, and to represent Australia's interests in our relationship with China. This need for Chinese language capabilities in our community has been recognised by successive governments and education systems for more than 20 years. Chinese language teaching in Australian schools first began in the 1950s and in Victoria in the early 1960s (Xu, 2011). Victoria is now the site of about 60% of school Chinese learners (Orton, 2008/2010). In Victoria in 1995, there were 1,016 students enrolled in Year 12 Chinese, whereas in 2011 this number grew to 3,978 (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority). Despite this, Chinese as a Second Language remains the least studied of the six most commonly taught languages in schools (Japanese, Italian, French, Indonesian, German, and Chinese). The number of non-Chinese background Australians with an understanding of Chinese culture and proficiency in Chinese language remains critically low.

China's rapid economic development has coincided with an increase in Chinese immigration to Australia. The number of Chinese (excluding persons from Hong Kong and Taiwan) who migrated to Australia in 1989 - 90 was 3,069 (Australian Government, 2000). The intake for 1999-2000 was 8,276 (Australian Government, 2007) and for 2010 -11 this number reached 29,547 (Australian Government, 2011). The increased level of Chinese migration has corresponded with a rise in Year 12 Chinese enrolments. The problem is that this increase is coming from overseas and locally born Chinese enrolling in Chinese courses at Year 12, while the number of non-background students taking the Year 12 course has actually shrunk to around 150 students of the nearly 4000 students enrolled in total. Students are now more likely to study Latin than Chinese; Chinese learning in Victoria has become 'overwhelmingly a matter of Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese' (Orton, 2008 p.6).


An increasing number of Australian-born Chinese who speak Chinese at home (often referred to as heritage learners (HL) but who are eligible to enrol in the Chinese Second Language course at Year 12 are being assessed alongside learners with no home background or knowledge of Chinese (typically referred to as second language learners). This pervasive presence of Chinese speakers in the Chinese Second Language course is one of the great deterrents for second language learners to continue their studies. The Year 12 exams are used to rank applicants for university entrance and no matter how keen or talented the second language students are, they are unable to compete effectively against those who speak Chinese at home. This is a common concern across Australia. In 2001 an attempt was made in Victoria to redress this concern. Students who were formerly eligible for the Chinese Second Language course were divided into two groups: Chinese First Language and Chinese Second Language (SL), with explicit criteria for eligibility for the Chinese Second Language course based primarily on country of birth and years of study at school overseas. This was further refined in 2004 when an additional course was added: Chinese Second Language Advanced (VCAA, 2008), designed for students born and educated overseas, but who arrived in Australia at an early age.

Under the current eligibility criteria in Victoria a student is eligible for Victorian Certificate of Education (Year 12) Chinese Second Language Advanced course if:

* they have had no more than 7 years of education in a school where Chinese is the medium of instruction

* the highest level of education attained in a school where Chinese is the medium of instruction is no greater than the equivalent of Year 7 in a Victorian school. …

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