Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday snippets - Lorenzo on radio, Wright on the Tao, Maximos62 on languages

Earlier in the week I wrote a companion post to a post by Lorenzo on skepticslawyer - A misbegotten Union – Guest post by Lorenzo. Lorenzo's post dealt with the problems faced by the EU. Now skepticslawyer's skepticlawyer advises that the ABC's ‘Counterpoint'  picked up the post and has interviewed Lorenzo.

The interview will air on Monday October 17. The show itself starts at 16:05; Lorenzo’s segment will air at about 16:20.

I really was pleased for Lorenzo and indeed for the independent bloggosphere. The post was a good one, presenting something of an alternative view, so its nice to see the recognition.

Back in August I mentioned that Denis Wright's Learning from the Sufis provides a well written introduction to Sufi beliefs that makes aspects of Sufi thought easily accessible. Now Denis has followed this up with a series of well written and easily understandable posts on the Tao. If you are interested, go to the first post Living Simply by the Tao 1 and then follow the series through. I mentioned Denis' series Friday in Round the New England blogging traps 25 - a few writers, but am repeating the link here to give the posts wider exposure.

In a post last week, Threads for later use, I mentioned a post by maximos62 What do we do about the decline of Bahasa #Indonesia in #Australia?. There I said in part that as Australia had become more multicultural with more native language speakers, the general study of foreign languages had declined. I thought that the two were connected.

maximos62's post is worth reading. I was reminded of it Friday when I went to a Sydney University graduation where my wife was delivering the occasional address.

There was a large contingent of overseas students in the group, and the presenter was seeking advice on pronunciation of names. My wife asked eldest daughter whether a particular name was Indonesian. She wasn't sure. It turned out that it was Chinese, but could be pronounced in no less than four ways depending on the country the student came from!

I had several things in mind when I suggested earlier that the fall in foreign language study was connected with the increase in the multicultural nature of Australian society.

People study other languages for multiple reasons. In a lot of cases, they want to acquire an understanding in advance of a trip. What we might call the hobby market is quite large. In a growing number of cases, children from particular backgrounds study their traditional tongue for family and cultural reasons. In other cases, languages may be selected for vocational reasons. Then, too, some are interested for purely academic reasons.

Nothing profound here, but I think it important to recognise the varying groups with their different motivations.

Australia's increased ethnic diversity means that there are more native language speakers from major language groups available who also speak English. They dominate the market. The vocational incentive to study foreign languages has, I think, actually declined among the majority community.

Further, at school, many language classes are now dominated by native speakers, with courses bifurcated into advanced dominated by native speakers and introductory - the rest. In a competitive environment, students select the courses that will give them the best exam results. This works against language study for the monolingual majority.

So we get a chain effect that works from school through both vocational and university education. I don't see an easy answer to this in a world of electives and market choice. It may be in Australia's interests for more students to study Indonesian, but its not necessarily in the interests of individual students.  

Finishing today's post, in a post on my history blog (A note on philosophy & methodology in history) I returned to my long standing preoccupation with the writing of history. I note it now because the whole topic is niggling away at my mind. I guess that you can expect more here.


Interesting story by Rachel Olding in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, All Greek to them: classics back in vogue as schools embrace languishing languages, on the rise in interest in Latin and, to a lesser extent, classical Greek. I quote: 

In schools, the classics are steadily increasing their enrolment numbers.

This year, Gosford High School and St Catherine's of Waverley joined the 43 schools teaching classical languages, resulting in 342 enrolments from a typically small number that do languages.

Chinese background speakers is the most popular language with 963 enrolments and Dutch is the least popular with two.

The number of students sitting the NSW Higher School Certificate this year is 72,391. Compare this with the 963 enrolled in the most popular language course and you get a feel for just how low the interest in languages really is. 


Neil said...

Sydney Boys High has been teaching the Classical Languages continuously since 1883. "In the junior school students begin reading Latin from the very start using the Cambridge Latin course. The reading consists of stories associated with the reconstruction of life at Pompeii, the Italian city destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD as recorded through the observations of a young Italian boy, Quintus. The stories are interesting and informative, not only teaching students the fundamentals of Latin but also introducing students to many, varied aspects of Roman culture and civilisation.

"In years 8 to 10 students continue reading material at an even more challenging level. Accompanying the reading the students now become engaged in a more formal approach to understanding and development of linguistic skills by undertaking a course in Prose Composition, translating from English to Latin. This focuses attention on the constructs of English and assists in understanding and improving more fully their own English literacy as well as providing the facility for learning languages in later life, particularly the Romance languages, profoundly influenced by Latin. Students are also engaged in developing skills in translating passages of Latin not previously sighted which is generally known as unseen translation.

"Classical Greek in the junior school partners Latin in that the two languages function as inflected languages where changes in the spelling of the word endings are major contributors in the communication of meaning. Greek is a subject making particularly rigorous and challenging demands on the intellectual capacities of young minds and teaches mental precision, logic and analytical skills. The approach is a more traditional and formal acquisition of knowledge and skills. Generally a study of Greek should be accompanied by the study of Latin as both languages reinforce each other.

"In the senior years the emphasis is on reading a selection of original Latin and Greek authors for study at some depth. In year 11 students are exposed to a variety of ancient authors of prose and verse. Skills in Prose Composition and Unseen Translation are further advanced.

"In year 12 prescribed authors, one prose and one verse are studied in depth in preparation for the higher school certificate. These texts involve ancient interests in history, philosophy and oratory in lyric, elegaic, satiric and epic themes.

"Extension courses offer further expansion in exposure to Latin and Classical Greek authors. Prose composition and Unseen Translation are attempted at an advanced level."

The Classical Association of NSW has its annual Greek and Latin Reading competition. I participated once as a child myself. (I see an old friend from the 1960s is one of the judges now!)

This year the results were:

Year 11 Latin:

First: Sarika Suresh, Pymble Ladies' College
Second: Rohini Prasad (Sydney Girls' High School)


First: Christopher Chiam (Sydney Boys' High School)
Second: Julia Tsolakis (Pymble Ladies' College)

Year 10 Latin:

First: Elissa Zhang (Pymble Ladies' College)
Second: Claire Graham-White (Sydney Girls' High School)

I too am glad these languages are having a bit of a revival.

Jim Belshaw said...

How fascinating, Neil.