Academic journal article Babel

Developing Content Learning in Chinese: The Victorian Experience

Academic journal article Babel

Developing Content Learning in Chinese: The Victorian Experience

Article excerpt


The number of primary students learning Chinese in Victoria has increased rapidly in the past two years in response to the state government's mandating of language study in the primary years. In all sectors, some of these new programs have opted to teach their language in intensive programs using an immersion style and offer content selected from regular school subject matter. To cater to graduates of these programs, a secondary bilingual Chinese program was also established. While these are not always formally content and language integrated learning (CLIL) programs, the teachers in these schools have been able to draw on CLIL literature and experience in other languages, including English as an additional language, to develop content-based Chinese. The particular learning challenges of Chinese, however, have required most borrowed practices to undergo systematic adaptation and have also necessitated considerable further innovation. This article introduces these programs and offers some of the work they have done as a contribution to the wider field of content-based language learning. While embryonic still, they show that well prepared and well taught second language Chinese CLIL programs could match student development in other second languages.


intensive Chinese language, content and language integrated learning (CLIL), school Chinese programs design, content-based Chinese, Chinese language challenges


Victoria has long been Australia's 'languages state', and despite numbers continuing to drop across the country in recent years, it still has close to 50% more students taking a language at Year 12 than the national average. Victoria is also home to nearly half of the country's school learners of Chinese. These numbers got a considerable boost in 2013 when the then-Liberal state government mandated the learning of a second language in primary schools. This move continued to be supported by the subsequent Labor government, who adopted a slightly modified Australian Curriculum for Languages as the new Victorian Curriculum and stipulated that a language program should provide a minimum of 150 minutes of study a week. The result has been an increase of 20000 students in primary Chinese in the last two years (Orton, 2016).

Many of these new programs provide considerably more time on Chinese each week than has been typical in primary programs and a number use an immersion approach in which little or no English is spoken. Others have implemented a content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach, in which a regular curriculum subject, such as science, is taught in Chinese. All these more intensive programs are particularly beneficial in the teaching of Chinese, where the burden on memory of a lexicon with no cognates and a separate character for every syllable can only be overcome by frequency of encounter. More intensive programs are not for the fainthearted, however, as little is available in the way of curriculum and resources, there is nothing to advise on standards and outcome expectations, and teachers have seldom been prepared for the style of teaching required.

This article describes new Chinese programs and shows that while they have been able to draw on common experience in the field of content and language integrated learning (CLIL), they have also had to develop a high degree of innovation to engage with the specific issues of Chinese. The article begins by briefly examining the development of content-based language learning and locates current Chinese programs within the current definitions of a CLIL approach. The second part of the article elaborates on the issues raised in this discussion through a case study of work in a secondary Chinese CLIL program. While the focus on Chinese should be of interest to teachers of Chinese, the discussion of issues in intensive language teaching also has much that will be of value to the broader field of second language learning in Australia. …

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