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Language education

Language education includes the teaching and learning of a language. It can include improving a learner's native language; however, it is more commonly used with regard to second language acquisition, that is, the learning of a foreign or second language, and that is the meaning that is treated in this article. As such, language education is a branch of applied linguistics.

History of foreign language education

Ancient to medieval period

Although the need to learn foreign languages is almost as old as human history itself, the origins of modern language education has its roots in the study and teaching of Latin. 500 years ago Latin was the dominant language of education, commerce, religion and government in much of the Western world.

However, by the end of the 16th century, French, Italian and English displaced Latin as the languages of spoken and written communication. The study of Latin diminished from the study of a living language to be used in the real world to a subject in the school curriculum. Such decline brought about a new justification for its study. It was then claimed that its study developed intellectual abilities and the study of Latin grammar became an end in and of itself.

"Grammar schools" from the 16th to 18th centuries focused on teaching the grammatical aspects of Classical Latin. Advanced students continued grammar study with the addition of rhetoric.

18th century

The study of modern languages did not become part of the curriculum of European schools until the 18th century. Based on the purely academic study of Latin, students of modern languages did much of the same exercises, studying grammatical rules and translating abstract sentences. Oral work was minimal; instead students were required to memorise of grammatical rules and apply these to decode written texts in the target language. This tradition-inspired method became known as the 'Grammar-Translation Method'.

19th-20th century

Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and, very rapidly, in the 20th century, leading to a number of different methodologies, sometimes conflicting, each trying to be a major improvement over the last or other contemporary methods. The earlist applied linguists, such as Henry Sweet (1845-1912), Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) and Harold Palmer (1877-1949) worked on setting principles and approaches based on linguistic and psychological theories, although they left many of the specific practical details for others to devise. Unfortunately, those looking at the history of foreign language education in the 20th century and the methods of teaching (such as those related below) might be tempted to think that it is a history of failure. Very few who study foreign languages in U.S. universities as a major manage to reach something called "minimum professional proficiency" and even "reading knowledge" required for PhD degree is comparable only to what second year language students read. In addition, very few American researchers can read and assess information written in languages other than English and even a number of famous linguists are monolingual.

However, anecdotal evidence for successful second or foreign language learning is easy to find, leading to a discrepancy between these cases and the failure of most language programs to help make second language acquisition research emotionally-charged. Older methods and approaches such as the grammar translation method or the direct method are disposed of and even ridiculed as newer methods and approaches are invented and promoted as the only and complete solution to the problem of the high failure rates of foreign language students. Most books on language teaching list the various methods that have been used in the past, often ending with the author's new method. These new methods seem to be created full-blown from the authors' minds, as they generally give no credence to what was done before and how it relates to the new method. For example, descriptive linguists seem to claim unhesitatingly that before their work, which lead to the audio-lingual method developed for the U.S. Army in World War II, there were no scientifically-based language teaching methods. However, there is significant evidence to the contrary. It is also often inferred or even stated that older methods were completely ineffective or have died out completely when even the oldest methods are still used (e.g. the Berlitz version of the direct method). Much of the reason for this is that proponents of new methods have been so sure that their ideas are so new and so correct that they could not conceive that the older ones have enough validity to cause controversy and emphasis on new scientific advances has tended to blind researchers to precedents in older work.(p5)

The development of foreign language teaching is not linear. There have been two major branches in the field, empirical and theoretical, which have almost completely-separate histories, with each gaining ground over the other at one point in time or another. Examples of researchers on the empiricist side are Jesperson, Palmer, Leonard Bloomfield who promote mimicry and memorization with pattern drills. These methods follow from the basic empiricist position that language acquisition basically results from habits formed by conditioning and drilling. In its most extreme form, language learning is basically the same as any other learning in any other species, human language being essentially the same as communication behaviors seen in other species. On the other, are Francois Gouin, M.D. Berlitz, Elime de Sauzé, whose rationalist theories of language acquisition dovetail with linguistic work done by Noam Chomsky and others. These have led to a wider variety of teaching methods from grammar-translation, to Gouin's "series method" or the direct methods of Berlitz and de Sauzé. With these methods, students generate original and meaningful sentences to gain a functional knowledge of the rules of grammar. This follows from the rationalist position that man is born to think and language use is a uniquely human trait impossible in other species. Given that human languages share many common traits, the idea is that humans share a universal grammar which is built into our brain structure. This allows us to create sentences that we have never heard before, but can still be immediately understood by anyone who understands the specific language being spoken. The rivalry of the two camps is intense, with little communication or cooperation between them.

Methods of teaching foreign languages

Language education usually takes place at a language school. There are many methods of teaching languages. Some have fallen into relative obscurity and others are widely used; still others have a small following, but offer useful insights.

While sometimes confused, the terms "approach", "method" and "technique" are hierarchical concepts. An approach is a set of correlative assumptions about the nature of language and language learning, but does not involve procedure or provide any details about how such assumptions should translate into the classroom setting. Such can be related to second language acquisition theory.

There are three principal views at this level:

  1. The structural view treats language as a system of structurally related elements to code meaning (e.g. grammar).
  2. The functional view sees language as a vehicle to express or accomplish a certain function, such as requesting something.
  3. The interactive view sees language as a vehicle for the creation and maintenance of social relations, focusing on patters of moves, acts, negotiation and interaction found in conversational exchanges. This view has been fairly dominant since the 1980s.

A method is a plan for presenting the language material to be learned and should be based upon a selected approach. In order for an approach to be translated into a method, an instructional system must be designed considering the objectives of the teaching/learning, how the content is to be selected and organized, the types of tasks to be performed, the roles of students and the roles of teachers. A technique is a very specific, concrete strategem or trick designed to accomplish an immediate objective. Such are derived from the controlling method, and less-directly, with the approach.

The grammar translation method

The grammar translation method instructs students in grammar, and provides vocabulary with direct translations to memorize. It was the predominant method in Europe in the 19th century. Most instructors now acknowledge that this method is ineffective by itself. It is now most commonly used in the traditional instruction of the classical languages.

At school, the teaching of grammar consists of a process of training in the rules of a language which must make it possible to all the students to correctly express their opinion, to understand the remarks which are addressed to them and to analyze the texts which they read. The objective is that by the time they leave college, the pupil controls the tools of the language which are the vocabulary, grammar and the orthography, to be able to read, understand and write texts in various contexts. The teaching of grammar examines the texts, and develops awareness that language constitutes a system which can be analyzed. This knowledge is acquired gradually, by traversing the facts of language and the syntactic mechanisms, going from simplest to the most complex. The exercises according to the program of the course must untiringly be practised to allow the assimilation of the rules stated in the course. That supposes that the teacher corrects the exercises. The pupil can follow his progress in practicing the language by comparing his results. Thus can he adapt the grammatical rules and control little by little the internal logic of the syntactic system. The grammatical analysis of sentences constitutes the objective of the teaching of grammar at the school. Its practice makes it possible to recognize a text as a coherent whole and conditions the training of a foreign language. Grammatical terminology serves this objective. Grammar makes it possible for each one to understand how the mother tongue functions, in order to give him the capacity to communicate its thought.

The direct method

The direct method, sometimes also called natural method, is a method that refrains from using the learners' native language and just uses the target language. It was established in Germany and France around 1900 and are best represented by the methods devised by Berlitz and de Sauzé although neither claim originality and has been re-invented under other names. The direct method operates on the idea that second language learning must be an imitation of first language learning, as this is the natural way humans learn any language - a child never relies on another language to learn its first language, and thus the mother tongue is not necessary to learn a foreign language. This method places great stress on correct pronunciation and the target language from outset. It advocates teaching of oral skills at the expense of every traditional aim of language teaching. Such methods rely on directly representing an experience into a linguistic construct rather than relying on abstractions like mimicry, translation and memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary.

According to this method, printed language and text must be kept away from second language learner for as long as possible, just as a first language learner does not use printed word until he has good grasp of speech. Learning of writing and spelling should be delayed until after the printed word has been introduced, and grammar and translation should also be avoided because this would involve the application of the learner's first language. All above items must be avoided because they hinder the acquisition of a good oral proficiency.

The method relies on a step-by-step progression based on question-and-answer sessions which begin with naming common objects such as doors, pencils, floors, etc. It provides a motivating start as the learner begins using a foreign language almost immediately. Lessons progress to verb forms and other grammatical structures with the goal of learning about thirty new words per lesson.

The series method

In the 19th century, Francois Gouin went to Hamburg to learn German. Based on his experience as a Latin teacher, he thought the best way to do this would be memorize a German grammar book and a table of its 248 irregular verbs. However, when he went to the academy to test his new language skills, he was disappointed to find out that he could not understand anything. Trying again, he similarly memorized the 800 root words of the language as well as re-memorizing the grammar and verb forms. However, the results were the same. During this time, he had isolated himself from people around him, so he tried to learn by listening, imitating and conversing with the Germans around him, but found that his carefully-constructed sentences often caused native German speakers to laugh. Again he tried a more classical approach, translation, and even memorizing the entire dictionary but had no better luck.

When he returned home, he found that his three-year-old nephew had learned to speak French. He noticed the boy was very curious and upon his first visit to a mill, he wanted to see everything and be told the name of everything. After digesting the experience silently, he then reenacted his experiences in play, talking about what he learned to whoever would listen or to himself. Gouin decided that language learning was a matter of transforming perceptions into conceptions, using language to represent what one experiences. Language is not an arbitrary set of conventions but a way of thinking and representing the world to oneself. It is not a conditioning process, but one in which the learner actively organizes his perceptions into linguistics concepts.

Variation of direct method

The series method is a variety of the direct method (above) in that experiences are directly connected to the target language. Gouin felt that such direct "translation" of experience into words, makes for a "living language". (p59) Gouin also noticed that children organize concepts in succession of time, relating a sequence of concepts in the same order. Gouin's method is based on arranging concepts in series. Gouin suggested that students learn a language more quickly and retain it better if it is presented through a chronological sequence of events. Students learn sentences based on an action such as leaving a house in the order in which such would be performed. Gouin found that if the series of sentences are shuffled, their memorization becomes nearly impossible. For this, Gouin preceded psycholinguistic theory of the 20th century. He found that people will memorize events in a logical sequence, even if they are not presented in that order. He also discovered a second insight into memory called "incubation". Linguistic concepts take time to settle in the memory. The learner must use the new concepts frequently after presentation, either by thinking or by speaking, in order to master them. His last crucial observation was that language was learned in sentences with the verb as the most crucial component. Gouin would write a series in two columns: one with the complete sentences and the other with only the verb. With only the verb elements visible, he would have students recite the sequence of actions in full sentences of no more than twenty-five sentences. Another exercise involved having the teacher solicit a sequence of sentences by basically ask him/her what s/he would do next. While Gouin believed that language was rule-governed, he did not believe it should be explicitly taught.

His course was organized on elements of human society and the natural world. He estimated that a language could be learned with 800 to 900 hours of instruction over a series of 4000 exercises and no homework. The idea was that each of the exercises would force the student to think about the vocabulary in terms of its relationship with the natural world. While there is evidence that the method can work extremely well, it has some serious flaws. One of which is the teaching of subjective language, where the students must make judgements about what is experienced in the world (e.g. "bad" and "good") as such do not relate easily to one single common experience. However, the real weakness is that the method is entirely based on one experience of a three-year-old. Gouin did not observe the child's earlier language development such as naming (where only nouns are learned) or the role that stories have in human language development. What distinguishes the series method from the direct method is that vocabulary must be learned by translation from the native language, at least in the beginning.

The oral approach/Situational language teaching

This approach was developed from the 1930s to the 1960s by British applied linguists such as Harold Palmer and A.S. Hornsby. They were familiar with the Direct method as well as the work of 19th century applied linguists such as Otto Jesperson and Daniel Jones but attempted to develop a scientifically-founded approach to teaching English than was evidence by the Direct Method.

A number of large-scale investigations about language learning and the increased emphasis on reading skills in the 1920s led to the notion of "vocabulary control". It was discovered that languages have a core basic vocabulary of about 2,000 words that occurred frequently in written texts, and it was assumed that mastery of these would greatly aid reading comprehension. Parallel to this was the notion of "grammar control", emphasizing the sentence patterns most-commonly found in spoken conversation. Such patterns were incorporated into dictionaries and handbooks for students. The principle difference between the oral approach and the direct method was that methods devise under this approach would have theoretical principles guiding the selection of content, gradation of difficulty of exercises and the presentation of such material and exercises. The main proposed benefit was that such theoretically-based organization of content would result in a less-confusing sequence of learning events with better contextualization of the vocabulary and grammatical patterns presented. Last but not least, all language points were to be presented in "situations". Emphasis on this point led to the approach's second name. Such learning in situ would lead to students' acquiring good habits to be repeated in their corresponding situations. Teaching methods stress PPP (presentation (introduction of new material in context), practice (a controlled practice phase) and production (activities designed for less-controlled practice)).

Although this approach is all but unknown among language teachers today, elements of it have had long lasting effects on language teaching, being the basis of many widely-used English as a Second/Foreign Language textbooks as late as the 1980s and elements of it still appear in current texts. Many of the structural elements of this approach were called into question in the 1960s, causing modifications of this method that lead to Communicative language teaching. However, its emphasis on oral practice, grammar and sentence patterns still finds widespread support among language teachers and remains popular in countries where foreign language syllbuses are still heavily based on grammar.

The audio-lingual method

The audio-lingual method was developed due to the U.S.'s entry into World War II. The government suddenly needed people who could carry on conversations fluently in a variety of languages such as German, French, Italian, Chinese, Malay, etc., and could work as interpreters, code-room assistants, and translators. However, since foreign language instruction in that country was heavily focused on reading instruction, no textbooks, other materials or courses existed at the time, so new methods and materials had to be devised. The Army Specialized Training Program created intensive programs based on the techniques Leonard Bloomfield and other linguists devised for Native American languages, where students interacted intensively with native speakers and a linguist in guided conversations designed to decode its basic grammar and learn the vocabulary. This \"informant method\" had great success with its small class sizes and motivated learners.

The Army Specialized Training Program only lasted a few years, but it gained a lot of attention from the popular press and the academic community. Charles Fries set up the first English Language Institute at the University of Michigan, to train English as a second or foreign language teachers. Similar programs were created later at Georgetown University, University of Texas among others based on the methods and techniques used by the military. The developing method had much in common with the British oral approach although the two developed independently. The main difference was the developing audio-lingual methods allegiance to structural linguistics, focusing on grammar and contrastive analysis to find differences between the student's native language and the target language in order to prepare specific materials to address potential problems. These materials strongly emphasized drill as a way to avoid or eliminate these problems.

This first version of the method was originally called the oral method, the aural-oral method or the structural approach. The audio-lingual method truly began to take shape near the end of the 1950s, this time due government pressure resulting from the space race. Courses and techniques were redesigned to add insights from behaviorist psychology to the structural linguistics and constructive analysis already being used. Under this method, students listen to or view recordings of language models acting in situations. Students practice with a variety of drills, and the instructor emphasizes the use of the target language at all times. The idea is that by reinforcing 'correct' behaviors, students will make them into habits.

Due to weaknesses in performance, and more importantly because of Noam Chomsky's theoretical attack on language learning as a set of habits, audio-lingual methods are rarely the primary method of instruction today. However, elements of the method still survive in many textbooks.

Communicative language teaching

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. Despite a number of criticisms ., it continues to be popular, particularly in Europe, where constructivist views on language learning and education in general dominate academic discourse.

In recent years, Task-based language learning (TBLL), also known as task-based language teaching (TBLT) or task-based instruction (TBI), has grown steadily in popularity. TBLL is a further refinement of the CLT approach, emphasizing the successful completion of tasks as both the organizing feature and the basis for assessment of language instruction.

Language immersion

Language immersion puts students in a situation where they must use a foreign language, whether or not they know it. This creates fluency, but not accuracy of usage. French-language immersion programs are common in Canada in the provincial school systems, as part of the drive towards bilingualism.


Paul Rowe's minimalist/methodist approach. This new approach is underpinned with Paul Nation's three actions of successful ESL teachers. Initially it was written specifically for unqualified, inexperienced people teaching in EFL situations. However, experienced language teachers are also responding positively to its simplicity. Language items are usually provided using flashcards. There is a focus on language-in-context and multi-functional practices.

Directed practice

Directed practice has students repeat phrases. This method is used by U.S. diplomatic courses. It can quickly provide a phrasebook-type knowledge of the language. Within these limits, the student's usage is accurate and precise. However the student's choice of what to say is not flexible.

Learning by teaching (LdL)

Learning by teaching is a widespread method in Germany, developed by Jean-Pol Martin. The students take the teacher's role and teach their peers.

Proprioceptive language learning method

The Proprioceptive language learning method (commonly called the Feedback training method) emphasizes simultaneous development of cognitive, motor, neurological, and hearing as all being part of a comprehensive language learning process. Lesson development is as concerned with the training of the motor and neurological functions of speech as it is with cognitive (memory) functions. It further emphasizes that training of each part of the speech process must be simultaneous. The Proprioceptive Method, therefore, emphasizes spoken language training, and is primarily used by those wanting to perfect their speaking ability in a target language.

The Proprioceptive Method virtually stands alone as a Second Language Acquisition (SLA) method in that it bases its methodology on a speech pathology model. It stresses that mere knowledge (in the form of vocabulary and grammar memory) is not the sole requirement for spoken language fluency, but that the mind receives real-time feedback from both hearing and neurological receptors of the mouth and related organs in order to constantly regulate the store of vocabulary and grammar memory in the mind during speech.

For optimum effectiveness, it maintains that each of the components of second language acquisition must be encountered simultaneously. It therefore advocates that all memory functions, all motor functions and their neurological receptors, and all feedback from both the mouth and ears must occur at exactly the same moment in time of the instruction. Thus, according to the Proprioceptive Method, all student participation must be done at full speaking volume. Further, in order to train memory, after initial acquaintance with the sentences being repeated, all verbal language drills must be done as a response to the narrated sentences which the student must repeat (or answer) entirely apart from reading a text.

Silent Way

The Silent Way is a discovery learning approach, invented by Caleb Gattegno in the 50s. It is often considered to be one of the humanistic approaches. It is called The Silent Way because the teacher is usually silent, leaving room for the students to talk and explore the language.

Pimsleur method

Pimsleur language learning system is based on the research of and model programs developed by American language teacher Paul Pimsleur. It involves recorded 30 minute lessons to be done daily, with each lesson typically featuring a dialog, revision, and new material. Students are asked to translate phrases into the target language, and occasionally to respond in the target language to lines spoken in the target language. The instruction starts in the student's language but gradually changes to the target language. Several all-audio programs now exist to teach various languages using the Pimsleur Method. The syllabus is the same in all languages.

Michel Thomas Method

Michel Thomas Method is an audio-based teaching system developed by Michel Thomas, a language teacher in the USA. It was originally done in person, although since his death it is done via recorded lessons. The instruction is done entirely in the student's own language, although the student's responses are always expected to be in the target language. The method focuses on constructing long sentences with correct grammar and building student confidence. There is no listening practice, and there is no reading or writing. The syllabus is ordered around the easiest and most useful features of the language, and as such is different for each language.


Several methodologies that emphasise understanding language in order to learn, rather than producing it, exist as varieties of the comprehension approach. These include Total Physical Response and the natural approach of Stephen Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell.

Learning strategies

Code switching

Code switching, that is, changing between languages at some point in a sentence or utterance, is a commonly used communication strategy among language learners and bilinguals. While traditional methods of formal instruction often discourage code switching, students, especially those placed in a language immersion situation, often use it. If viewed as a learning strategy, wherein the student uses the target language as much as possible but reverts to their native language for any element of an utterance that they are unable to produce in the target language, then it has the advantages that it encourages fluency development and motivation and a sense of accomplishment by enabling the student to discuss topics of interest to him or her early in the learning process -- before requisite vocabulary has been memorized. It is particularly effective for students whose native language is English, due to the high probability of a simple English word or short phrase being understood by the conversational partner.

Blended learning

Blended learning combines face-to-face teaching with distance education, frequently electronic, either computer-based or web-based. It has been a major growth point in the ELT (English Language Teaching) industry over the last ten years.

Some people, though, use the phrase 'Blended Learning' to refer to learning taking place while the focus is on other activities. For example, playing a card game that requires calling for cards may allow blended learning of numbers (1 to 10).

Skills teaching

When talking about language skills, the four basic ones are: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, other, more socially-based skills have been identified more recently such as summarizing, describing, narrating etc. In addition, more general learning skills such as study skills and knowing how one learns have been applied to language classrooms.

In the 1970s and 80's the basic four skills were generally taught in isolation in a very rigid order, such as listening before speaking. However, since then, it has been recognized that we generally use more than one skill at a time, leading to more integrated exercises. Speaking is a skill that often is underrepresented in the traditional classroom. This could be due to the fact that it is considered a less-academic skills than writing, is transient and improvised (thus harder to assess and teach through rote imitation).

More recent textbooks stress the importance of students working with other students in pairs and groups, sometimes the entire class. Pair and group work give opportunties for more students to participate more actively. However, supervision of pairs and groups is important to make sure everyone participates as equally as possible. Such activities also provide opportunties for peer teaching, where weaker learners can find support from stronger classmates.

Language education by region


Foreign language education

1995 European Commission’s White Paper "Teaching and learning – Towards the learning society", stated that "upon completing initial training, everyone should be proficient in two Community foreign languages". The Lisbon Summit of 2000 defined languages as one of the five key skills.

In fact, even in 1974, at least one foreign language was compulsory in all but two European member states (Ireland and the United Kingdom, apart from Scotland). By 1998 nearly all pupils in Europe studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being the Republic of Ireland, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered a foreign language although a third European language is also taught. Pupils in upper secondary education learn at least two foreign languages in Belgium's Flemish community, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia.

On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, pupils have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school. In Luxembourg, Norway, Italy and Malta, however, the first foreign language starts at age six, and in Belgium's Flemish community at age 10. About half of the EU's primary school pupils learn a foreign language.

English is the language taught most often at lower secondary level in the EU. 93% of children there learn English. At upper secondary level, English is even more widely taught. French is taught at lower secondary level in all EU countries except Slovenia. A total of 33% of European Union pupils learn French at this level. At upper secondary level the figure drops slightly to 28%. German is taught in nearly all EU countries. A total of 13% of pupils in the European Union learn German in lower secondary education, and 20% learn it at an upper secondary level.

Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English speakers: in 2004 a British survey showed that only one in 10 UK workers could speak a foreign language. Less than 5% could count to 20 in a second language, for example. 80% said they could work abroad anyway, because "everyone speaks English." In 2001, a European Commission survey found that 65.9% of people in the UK spoke only their native tongue.

Since the 1990s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has tried to standardize the learning of languages across Europe (one of the first results being UNIcert).

Bilingual education

In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries with a minority or regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some central and eastern European countries created a system of bilingual schools for well-performing pupils. Subjects other than languages were taught in a foreign language. In the 1990s this system was opened to all pupils in general education, although some countries still make candidates sit an entrance exam. At the same time, Belgium's French community, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland also started bilingual schooling schemes. Germany meanwhile had established some bilingual schools in the late 1960s.

United States

Most students start learning a foreign language in high school or late middle school. Students are sometimes required to take a certain amount (on average two years) of foreign language study in order to graduate; in some states or school systems, this is a requirement only of certain graduation plans (e.g. college preparatory). However, the requirements of a foreign language have decreased in schools in parts of certain states, such as Western Washington.

The most popular language is Spanish, due to the large number of recent Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States (see Spanish in the United States). Other popular languages are French, German, and Japanese. Latin used to be more common, but has fallen from favor somewhat. During the Cold War, the United States government pushed for Russian education, and some schools still maintain their Russian programs Other languages recently gaining popularity are Chinese (especially Mandarin) and Arabic.


Prior to European colonisation, there were hundreds of Aboriginal languages, taught in a traditional way. The arrival of a substantial number of Irish in the first English convict ships meant that European Australia was not never truly monolingual. When the goldrushes of the 1850s trebled the white population, it brought many more Welsh speakers, who had their own language newspapers through to the 1870s, but the absence of language education meant that these Celtic languages never flourished.

Waves of European migration after World War II brought "community languages," sometimes with schools. However, from 1788 until modern times it was generally expected that immigrants would learn English and abandon their first language (Clyne, 1997). The wave of multicultural policies since the 1970s has softened aspects of these attitudes.

In 1982 a bipartisan committee of Australian parliamentarians was appointed and identified a number of guiding principles that would support a National Policy on Languages (NPL). Its trend was towards bilingualism in all Australians, for reasons of fairness, diversity and economics.

In the 1990s the Australian Languages and Literacy Policy (ALLP) was introduced, building on the NPL, with extra attention being given to the economic motivations of second language learning. A distinction became drawn between priority languages and community languages. The ten priority languages identified were Mandarin, French, German, Modern Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Spanish and Aboriginal languages.

However, Australia's federal system meant that the NPL and ALLP direction was really an overall policy from above without much engagement from the states and territories. The NALSAS strategy united Australian Government policy with that of the states and territories. It focused on four targeted languages: Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean. This would be integrated into studies of Society and Environment, English and Arts.

By 2000, the top ten languages enrolled in the final high school year were, in descending order: Japanese, French, German, Chinese, Indonesian, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Spanish and Arabic. In 2002, only about 10% of Year 12 included at least one Language Other Than English (LOTE) among their course choices.


See Eikaiwa

Language study holidays

An increasing number of people are now combining holidays with language study in the native country. This enables the student to experience the target culture by meeting local people. Such a holiday often combines formal lessons, cultural excursions, leisure activities, and a homestay, perhaps with time to travel in the country afterwards. Language study holidays are popular across Europe and Asia due to the ease of transportation and variety of nearby countries.

With the increasing prevalence of international business transactions, it is now important to have multiple languages at one's disposal. This is also evident in businesses outsourcing their departments to Eastern Europe.

Language education on the Internet

The Internet has emerged as a powerful medium to teach and learn foreign languages. Websites that provide language education on the Internet may be broadly classified under 2 categories:

Language exchange websites

Language exchange facilitates language learning by placing users with complementary language skills in contact with each other. For instance, User A is a native Spanish speaker and wants to learn English; User B is a native English speaker and wants to learn Spanish. Language exchange websites essentially treat knowledge of a language as a commodity, and provide a market like environment for the commodity to be exchanged.

From the user's perspective, the effectiveness of such websites in learning a language from the start is very questionable. Attempts like "I want to learn Japanese" do not frequently elicit any positive reaction from seasoned users of the site.

There is also the view that these services provide a good tool to aid language learning at a language school, rather than act as alternatives to real world language schools. Users typically contact each other via chat or email.

In 2007 Second Life started to be used for foreign language tuition . English (as a foreign language) has gained a presence through several schools, including the British Council, which has focused on the Teen Grid. Spain’s language and cultural institute “ Instituto Cervantes” has an island on Second Life. A list of educational projects (including some language schools) in Second Life can be found on the SimTeach site.

Portals that provide language content

There are a number of Internet portals that offer language content, some in interactive form. Content typically includes phrases with translation in multiple languages, text to speech engines (TTS), learning activities such as quizzes or puzzles based on language concepts. While some of this content is free, a large fraction of the content on offer is available for a fee, especially where the content is tailored to the needs of language tests such as TOEFL, for the United States.

In general, language education on the Internet provides a good supplement to real world language schooling. However, the commercial nature of the Internet, including pop-up and occasionally irrelevant text or banner ads might be seen as a distraction from a good learning experience.

Acronyms and abbreviations

See also: English language learning and teaching for information on language teaching acronyms and abbreviations which are specific to English.

See also


External links

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