A rationale for language learning in the 21st century

A changed learning environment

Learning in the 21st century is complex, more socially interactive, more culturally diverse and more community engaged. In the past ten years, learning for our students has become:

  • more community based and networked
  • less bound by time and location
  • more individual/group, and less whole-class based,
  • transformed by access to information and communication technologies
  • global as well as local
  • focused on knowledge creation and application.

Our students live in a globally oriented and highly interconnected world, a world that is technology and information rich and characterised by increasing linguistic and cultural diversity and the growing interdependence of people, communities, and nations. Learning languages develops particular capabilities in cognition, cultural understanding and communication that support students today and into the future.

The reasons for learning languages reflect this changed environment.

Learning languages and cultures

Learning to communicate in additional languages means being able to use language resourcefully to exchange meaning. A knowledge of, and engagement with, systems of culture are fundamental to being able to communicate successfully and provide a basis for the ways in which speakers of a language establish shared meaning, exchange shared concepts, and ways of seeing the world.

Learning to communicate requires interaction that focuses on

  • learners as interactants whose engagement in any interaction shapes and is shaped by the cultural setting in which the interaction is situated
  • learners recognising that their success in interaction is determined not only by what they do, but what they are understood to do by members of the ‘other’ culture, whose perceptions are culturally distinct from their own
  • learners understanding how to act with members of ‘other’ cultures and managing their interactions in response to the expectations of members of the ‘other’ culture
  • learners using language with awareness of the deliberate choices made to achieve particular effects and meanings
  • learners decentring from their own cultural perspective to engage with others.

These interactions, accompanied by reflection, are central to intercultural language learning.

Benefits of learning languages

Intercultural language learning develops the following benefits

Communicative benefit

Proficiency in additional languages extends learners’ capability to communicate. Learning a language also develops their understanding of a language in addition to their own.

Intercultural benefit

Learning additional languages enables learners to engage with people of diverse cultures in ways that recognise differences and create connections. Language is inseparable from ways of knowing the world. Knowing additional languages and cultures involves connecting, engaging, and interacting with others and negotiating boundaries based on diverse ways of understanding the world.

Linguistic benefit

Learning additional languages develops an understanding of how languages are structured and how they work to create meaning, thereby extending language awareness.

Cognitive benefit

Learning additional languages extends an individual’s capacity to think and to use knowledge and information in interaction with others, using a range of technologies. Research has reinforced the belief that language learning uses and develops intelligence and particular conceptualisation and metacognitive skills.

Languages enable our students to engage and interact with their world

Learning additional languages increases the personal, social, and economic capacities of both individuals and communities. It also assists learners in shaping, engaging with, and making meaning from these new learning environments.

Learners with knowledge of additional languages and cultures will be more able to shape and navigate their own environments. Knowing additional languages and cultures increases our students’ capabilities to:

  • communicate
  • interact successfully with others
  • access and use information
  • respond creatively to change and emerging global possibilities.

Through learning languages and cultures, as an integral part of school education, students will develop:

  • a capability to use an additional language
  • intercultural sensitivity
  • an understanding of the nature of language (of both their first language and at least one additional language)
  • a linguistic awareness that enables them to perceive the power of language
  • an understanding of the cultures embedded in these languages, including the skills and sensitivity to recognise the centrality of culture to ‘meaning making’ and the exchange of meaning through communication
  • an understanding of themselves and their own identities
  • a multilingual and intercultural awareness as citizens who will continue to develop their understanding of and engagement with diversity.

Students leaving school with knowledge and skills in languages and cultures will contribute to the cultural and linguistic richness of our society, to personal fulfilment, mutual understanding, economic growth and global citizenship.