A languages campaign aims to help revitalise the study of Indonesian in Australia
A national initiative aimed at encouraging the study of languages at university can also help reinvigorate the Indonesian language in Australia, according to those who have long been fighting for change.
The Find Your Best Self in Another Language campaign is targeted at school leavers, university students, and parents.
The ads seek to highlight the benefits of language learning as well as new financial benefits (reduced HECS charges and debt) which accrue to students who choose to study languages at university under the Commonwealth’s Job-ready graduates package.
The study of Indonesian in Australia has been widely recognised as needing attention.
Figures from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority show that just 828 Year 12 students studied Indonesian in 2020, 28 percent down from 2010 when the number was 1161.
And while the study of languages at Year 12 dropped 10 percent between 2010 and 2020, the Indonesian figures still contrast sharply with Japanese (which had 4,554 Year 12 students in 2020) and French (3,922).
The director of The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), Liam Prince, welcomed the campaign as “an important measure towards revitalising the study of the Indonesian language in Australia”.
“By relatively recent historical standards, the state of Indonesian language learning in Australia is not healthy,” Mr Prince said.
“We have some way to go but this campaign is an important step.”
Mr Prince attributed the decline in Indonesian to the axing of the Commonwealth’s National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) strategy two decades ago.
“It has also been the language that has experienced the most dramatic and sustained reversal in the absence of this federal funding since 2002,” he said.
A “VALUABLE TOOL”
“The government brought in a reduction in fees if you study languages but nobody knows about it.
“I have been visiting schools and Year 12 teachers were trying to get their students to continue languages but were unaware students could get reduced fees,” Ms Davies said.
“The teachers are passionate and really want their students to keep on with languages at university and yet they didn’t know about this option.”
Having Indonesian language skills could also have career benefits.
“If you are competing against other young engineers and one of those big engineering companies, or even a mining company, says go and work in Indonesia, you are a sure bet if you know some of the language,” Ms Davies said.
“And it is not solely about the language, but the culture too and showing that you are not going to be freaked out by a different culture.”
She said it was important to inform teachers and also parents “who may or may not be footing the HECs bill” and make clear that the government saw value in languages “itself a powerful message”.
“Parents who I have talked to, particularly with Indonesian, have asked ‘what’s the point?’
“For us to be able to say now, ‘well the government thinks that it is important enough that it is reducing the fee’, that is a powerful message in itself,” Ms Davies concluded.
MAKING COMMON CAUSE
Mr Prince noted it had been a challenging time for the teaching of languages, particularly Southeast Asian languages.
“In order to increase national enrolments in Indonesian, we need to exert influence on all terms,” he said.
“The current campaign is predicated on making common cause with colleagues teaching all languages within Australian universities in an attempt to reverse the decline in enrolments and to regrow the size of the overall pie.”
Running under the auspices of the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities (LCNAU), the national campaign has been bankrolled with money from ten Australian universities including Australia-Indonesia Centre stakeholders Monash University, The University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland.
LCNAU president and professor of Italian Studies, John Hajek, said the campaign and new HECS settings should “hopefully go some way to arresting the decline that we’ve seen in the study of languages by Australian university students”.
The campaign ads includes online video, audio and static ads and will be streaming across YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Facebook between now and January next year.
The Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities (LCNAU) brings together people, language programs, university structures and tertiary institutions and seeks to strengthen the tertiary languages sector via advocacy, collaboration, and research.
Image at top from Yosi Prihantoro and Unsplash.