The white paper Australia in the Asian Century was released this week. It is as exciting as you expect white papers to be.
As expected it is full of sentences like this.
Proficiency in more than one language is a basic skill of the 21st century.
Businesses are increasingly outward-looking, innovative and capable of adapting and responding to change. More will require cultural and language skills to collaborate and partner in the region.
And so on. This is partnered with a resolution to increase the number of students studying Asian languages, or at least make sure they can study them if they want to.
But as I questioned one year ago (almost to the day!), what’s the problem that’s being addressed?.
Last week I had a job promotion interview. I didn’t even think of putting my (limited but still improving) Mandarin and Japanese on my resume. I know they’re of no use, as would my employers. For all the talk of a shortage, there’s precious little in the way of leaders, CEOs, think tankers or whatever whom earned their position with language proficiency.
The promises of jobs are simply not true, so they will fail to attract students that way. This might be due to ignorance or poor selection of leaders on the part of organisations (I doubt it), but increasing the supply of speakers won’t help there anymore than increasing numbers of women in the population would help the disparity in gender in upper management where adverse selection is a clear problem. The public good arguments on the other hand are never properly described.
It is probably wise then that the white paper also resolves to
Work with business and the community to increase understanding of the benefits of learning a foreign language and boost demand for language studies.
Please! I await eagerly!
Last year when I wrote that post, no one came forth to tell all the benefits that would accrue from greater Asian language literacy. I hope someone might do it this time. Promising nonexistent jobs or hand waving wonderful public benefits does not serve the cause.
Of all people I should be inclined to support this. Learning languages is hugely rewarding to me (non financially), and East Asia is a constant recurring topic for my posts here. By the traditional practice of determining ideal curricula – i.e “My area of expertise is essential for a well functioning citizen” – I should be ridiculously in favour. To an extent my heart is.
But the case is not made. My obsession with the topic is outweighed by my dislike of argumentum ad nauseum. Please, someone, make the case for increased Asian language literacy for public policy without just asserting it . Treat us as adults and make a case.
I now have to make a phone call in connection with my continuing Mandarin study.
[fn1] Though of course I’d like you to read last year’s post to address my more detailed complaints.