Jessica Worboys delves into the languages department at UON to find out why it doesn’t offer a wider array of languages to study.
Why is it that UoN offers classical languages such as Greek and Latin, yet doesn’t offer more commonly spoken languages such as Spanish, Arabic and Italian?
After thoroughly enjoying studying Italian in Year 11 and Year 12, I wanted to continue learning the language when I came to Uni.
My heart sank when I found out that UoN doesn’t offer Italian as a language to study. I chose French instead, as I was told it was a good substitute.
It stumped me why the University doesn’t offer a broader range of languages that reflect our multicultural nation, so I spoke to Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan, head of the Languages Department at UoN.
After speaking to her, I realised that deciding which language courses to offer at the Uni isn’t a simple one-step process.
“They [the University] are trying to find courses that are attractive,” she said. “We are in a culture here in Australia where languages are not perceived as essential… When I, as head of languages, have ideas to introduce a new language it’s very difficult.”
“They’re saying ‘you need a business plan, you need to prove that there is a need, you need to prove that it will be viable’. It’s very hard for me because I’m not trained to do that.”
Even though it seems an impossible task to introduce new languages, Marie-Laure has succeeded (after four years) in introducing two new language options to study.
“There will be a new course in Indigenous language; it’s the first in Australia for the Diploma in Languages… And we’ll have a new course in Business Chinese [Mandarin].”
Aside from the difficulties of introducing a new language, trying to keep teaching the existing languages with such a small level of staff also keeps Marie-Laure on her toes.
Marie-Laure says that the staffing situation for the Language Department is very different from that of other disciplines. For example, there are only two permanent staff members in French, two in Japanese, and none in German, Chinese, or AUSLAN (only tutors).
When I asked why the University offers Latin and Ancient Greek, she gave an unexpected answer:
“It’s because we’re a University, not a language school. The idea is not only to give communication skills, but also to broaden the ‘cultural horizon’; to give tools but also to read great thinkers. They’re important languages for culture as well, not only for everyday communication.”
“Latin is our heritage. The English language, French language, Spanish language, it all comes from Latin; and the Greek civilisation is the basis of our democracy.”
Sadly, Marie-Laure describes the state of the classical languages as “endangered”. Despite this, the number of students still wanting to learn languages increases every year. In 2016, there were 543 students studying French; an increase from 384 in 2011.
While the future of languages at UoN seems contested, rest assured Marie-Laure will be doing everything in her power to ensure they’ll be on the list of choices for years to come.
“We have to be positive because we’ve got good numbers… and we do that with a very limited number of staff, so I’m proud of what we’re doing.”