The Language of Love

The Language of Love

Monday, 12 May 2014  | Gerry - Administration Manager
As a former Bible translation adviser I deeply value the importance of each person’s mother tongue. When your ‘neighbour’ has a different mother tongue than you do, having a go at using that language to communicate with them demonstrates love and hospitality toward them. I want to connect this thought with one of the requirements of the National Curriculum: that every school teaches a language ‘other than English’. This presents an exciting challenge for the way that MECS engages with languages learning, and the way we develop students who love their neighbours.

As a school community, we’ve been working through what this means for MECS, and we are now at the point of implementing an Indonesian language curriculum. Before I talk about that let’s first think about some of MECS’ language teaching story.

MECS is unique. For around 30 years we have taught the Western Desert language, Warlpiri. From the late 1990s we taught Warlpiri in Year 9 and Year 10 as a part of the Aboriginal Studies and Centre Trip program. Since around 2004 we have taught it only in Year 10. Apart from our unique learning of Warlpiri, a number of students have studied other languages through the Victorian School of Languages; mainly in Senior School where a student had a desire to study that language. 

You’re thinking languages are boring and useless, right? MECS as a community has probably not embraced the learning of another language across the entire school due to the fact that, historically, schools in Australia have not delivered language programs in ways that are inspiring or lead to truly effective language learning. Mums and dads, you are probably remembering deadly boring language grammar lessons you had at school. I’m with you; poorly delivered language programs are like vaccinating children against the wonder of acquiring another language. But approaches to teaching other languages have changed and we can rise to the challenge of changing them even more. The great strength of our Warlpiri program, even though it’s brief, is that students meet and interact with Warlpiri speakers during their Centre Trip experience.

While teaching a language other than English is a compliance requirement for MECS, maybe it is also a requirement of the gospel. This next statement by a Christian educational thinker, David Smith, is pretty complex, but it nails an important truth: “What … Pentecost teaches us, I suggest, is that an education that does not seriously engage with the languages and cultures of others is not just pragmatically or intellectually, but ethically and spiritually deficient, rooted as it is in a failure to love others as ourselves, to do to them as we would have them do to us. This runs deeply counter to the basic instincts and priorities of Western culture – but then since when did the Holy Spirit go with the flow?” I find these words profoundly challenging but the thought fits MECS so well – running counter to the priorities of Western culture.

Our Response

What about Warlpiri? The idea of teaching Warlpiri throughout the school is an innovative and adventurous approach that would be exciting and challenging. Unfortunately, the practical reality of a full Warlpiri program both in terms of cost and personnel is too great for our single school community to sustain. Therefore, after careful consideration, we are planning to implement Indonesian as the language to be learned by students at MECS from Prep to Year 8 (we expect that Warlpiri will continue in Year 10). We will begin by rolling out the learning of Indonesian in our Primary section in 2015. Subsequent roll out plans for Years 7 and 8 will then be developed. We also hope that we can establish a relationship with the Indonesian speaking Christian community in Melbourne to enable real life language encounters for students.

Why Indonesian?

You might be asking why choose Indonesian. Here are just a few of our reasons:
Indonesia is a national neighbour.
There is a good potential to link to the Indonesian Christian community in Melbourne.
It is not as linguistically complex as other Asian languages.
It uses a Roman script for its alphabet; this eliminates a literacy burden which makes it more straight-forward to keep a focus on spoken language.
There are many teaching and learning resources as it is one of the most commonly taught languages in Australian schools.
It aligns with the Australian government’s promotion of Asian languages.
Other Christian Education National schools in Victoria study Indonesian.

What happens next?

Our next step is to recruit a passionate, capable Indonesian teacher. We hope that this teacher will start in Term 4 2014, so that they can plan and develop the curriculum and relationships needed to begin teaching Indonesian in 2015. Please pray with us in this vital next step. If you have any questions, or perhaps know of an inspiring, passionate, capable Indonesian teacher please let us know. Terima kasih

Dr Gerry Beimers
Administration Manager

P.S. For those of you academically inclined, the statement by David Smith is in an article called Pentecost Perplexity and Language Learning in the Journal of Christianity and Foreign Languages, 2004, p.8.

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