About a third of Australia’s school population speak a foreign language at home.
But despite their advanced cognitive ability, many don’t retain their mother tongue and some fall behind their peers at school.
To tackle the issue, the University of Western Sydney and the Fairfield City Council have launched a new forum for community groups to share their ideas and experiences.
Nisrine El-Choueifati, from Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, said bilingual children were more flexible, creative and better at problem solving than their monolingual peers.
However she said some parents feared teaching their children their native language, because they thought it would impede on school learning.
“Families can have guilt or shame or misinformation and doubt as to will this language make my child delayed or will this language, will other people tease them because they speak another language,” Ms El-Choueifati said. “And when a family has that it’s so important to get involved and give them the right information.”
According the the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18.2 per cent per cent of the population speaks another language at home.
Mandarin, Italian and Arabic are the most common.
Mandarin, Punjabi, and Tagalog have shown the fastest growth.
But despite Australia’s multilingual classrooms the most popular languages are not widely taught at school.
Dr Ruying Qi, from the University of Western Sydney said parents needed to take an active role in their child’s language education.
“Learning their community language, or a second language, actually helps them learn English and literacy development and other interpersonal social development so it’s actually a good investment.” Dr Qi said.
Experts hope the Australian Curriculum Review – due to be released mid August – will provide some solutions to help children retain their native language while at school.
Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the University of Macau, Daming Xu, said a completely new approach may be more successful.
“I would suggest we abandon the concept of foreign language teaching. We redefine it as community language teaching. We teach only the language we can have native speakers to interact with, so in this way Australia has very good conditions to teach.” Mr Xu said