On the 28th of June, as part of its ongoing ‘Question Marks’ seminar series, the Aii hosted an event titled ‘How can we develop a passion for Asian Languages?’
A panel of four speakers discussed strategies for promoting an interest in Asian languages – Hindi in particular – at the individual, school, community, and policy levels. The event filled up the venue with an audience of around 90, testifying to the high levels of academic and community interest in the topic.
Joseph Lo Bianco, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, started off the discussion by providing an overview of the current situation in Asian languages in the state of Victoria. He highlighted Victoria’s remarkable success relative to other Australian states in terms of the number of students studying languages at the higher secondary level.
He emphasized the importance of offering opportunities to study a diverse variety of languages and recognizing the diverse reasons that people develop a passion for studying languages. Where governments have often assumed that people will study languages for economic reasons, in practice, it is more often to develop and/or maintain social and cultural connections.
Next, Meredith Clencie, Assistant Principal at the Grange P-12 College in Hopper’s Crossing, detailed her school’s experience in introducing Hindi as its main language some 4 years ago. She described it as a ‘ground up’ story: the school chose Hindi because it was a language that was spoken widely in the community. This has resulted in high levels of community support which is vital to the program’s success. Moreover, since many students at the school are from Hindi-speaking families, these students are able to provide peer-to-peer learning supports for other students.
Mala Mehta (OAM) then spoke of her experience as President, Founder and Teacher at the Indo-Australian Bal Bharatiya Vidyalaya Hindi School in Sydney. When Mala first started promoting Hindi education in Australia some 32 years ago, the Indian diaspora community were initially uninterested, seeing English language as more important for their children’s future. However, this situation has now changed: the diaspora community now recognizes that learning Hindi and other South Asian languages is an asset that is instrumental in further developing one’s literacy skills and also a vital way of maintaining connections to one’s culture, community, and identity.
Finally, Richard Delacy, Preceptor in Hindi/Urdu at Harvard University spoke of some of the challenges of teaching Hindi in a globalized world. He spoke of the different approaches to teaching Hindi to students of South Asian heritage versus non-heritage students and noted the challenges of teaching a language that has many regional variations. He emphasized the importance of spending time in-country in order to consolidate language competency and described Harvard’s experience with study abroad programs.
The event generated a lively response from the audience. Many attendees stayed back long after the event had officially concluded to discuss their ideas on how Hindi and other Asian languages can be promoted in Australia.
The Aii hopes to host more events like this in future and to support the agenda to strengthen Australia’s capacity to teach Hindi and other South Asian languages.