Abstract: The argument I will develop in this essay is that the foreign students are a latent human resource who can assist with overcoming English monolingualism in the Australian population. Foreign students, properly rewarded, can be a major source of skills transfer. Every one of those students is a walking compendium of language and cultural skills that Australians need to know.
Nations which have English as a dominant mother tongue are often accused of foolish monolingualism. There are populations in other languages which are also monolingual for a variety of reasons, although multilingualism has been and remains the most common worldwide pattern. At this point in history however, English monolingualism is especially resistant to challenge, and will be at the core of this discussion.
Anglo-cultures nourish a widely accepted social meme which disparages language learning. The strong form of this meme is “we can’t learn foreign languages”, and the weaker variant, “it is a waste of time to learn foreign languages because everyone speaks English”. The supporting rationale to the weak form of rejection is that “if we need interpreting/translation there are plenty of people in this country who can do it”.
It is not difficult to disprove the hopeless “we can’t learn…” attitude. However it has proved very difficult to challenge the “language learning is a waste of time” attitude, partly because most Anglo-countries now do have large immigrant populations which are a useful source of language skills for at least one generation. The challenge is also difficult because “waste of time” in the end is a measurement of cultural value, and only incidentally a measure of economic value. Continue reading