Community languages: Teacher skills, perceptions and attitudes

Year: 2012

Author: Cruickshank, Ken, Morgan, Liam, Wright, Jan, Tsung, Linda, Chen, Honglin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The issues relating to teachers and school staff in community languages education has been the focus of many studies and reports. The matching of teacher skills with key languages, the quality and supple of teachers, the impact of teacher attitudes on student language learning and use have all been researched extensively. The gap between government policy and programs and teacher and school resources has been identified as a major issue in many studies. Despite Australia's record in policy development with some 67 other policy-related reports, investigations and substantial enquiries relating to languages have been published over the past 40 years, the percentage of Year 12 students studying a language has now declined to 13%. This paper reports on the second stage of a larger study into languages resources in schools. It focuses on school staff across sectors in two areas: Sydney region and South Coast/ Illawarra in NSW. The study aimed to investigate teacher and school staff languages use, proficiencies and skills and their attitudes towards languages and language study. The data were drawn from teacher questionnaires and interviews but this paper reports on an analysis of some 2, 000 teacher surveys only. The findings indicate generally positive attitudes to languages use and study. However, the segmentation that has been identified in student populations on language/ SES and cultural backgrounds also applies to school staff. Although an estimated 18% of school staff are from bilingual/ bicultural backgrounds, the data indicate that these teachers and school staff were concentrated in schools with high numbers of students from non-English speaking backgrounds. There was not necessarily a match, however, in these schools between staff and student languages and with languages programs offered in the schools.  Although attitudes to community languages in schools with high numbers of background speakers were generally more positive, there were also marked numbers of negative attitudes to programs and language use. The segmentation of community languages and bilingual/ bicultural teachers present issues for the development of community languages and also for language education policy in general.