Celebrating language diversity at home and at school

​As a boy, Professor Joe Lo Bianco AM felt embarrassed hearing his parents speak Italian in public when growing up in the north-east Victorian town of Myrtleford.

'I didn't know any English until I went to school,' he says.

'Like many, many migrant children I was embarrassed by my parents' language and didn't want them to speak Italian in public, I was so desperate to belong and fit in.'

Now, as an adult, Professor Lo Bianco is spearheading a global push for a multilingual world as the lead author of the Salzburg Statement.

He is also Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Celebrating language diversity

Professor Lo Bianco says the Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World is a call for individuals, corporations, institutions and governments around the world to celebrate and promote language diversity.

The statement was released to coincide with International Mother Language Day on 21 February, observed each year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism.

Professor Lo Bianco celebrated the release of the statement with Department of Education and Training Secretary Gill Callister at a recent reception. Both discussed the importance of children learning their mother language and all children learning a second language in the context of an increasingly globalised, multilingual world.

Busting language myths

Professor Lo Bianco says parents often mistakenly believe speaking their first language to their children will hinder their ability to learn English — when in fact the opposite is true.

'It's actually much better for children to have a rich knowledge base in their first language,' he says.

'If parents are learning English themselves and speaking to their children in English, then they are talking to their children in a language they don't know very well.

'Studies show that this tends to mean children receive very fractured and fragmented information, which is not good for the child's language development.'

Teacher power

Professor Lo Bianco says teachers could play a crucial role in encouraging children and their parents to continue speaking their mother language.

'Teachers can foster a positive attitude by drawing attention to the fact that other languages exist and are spoken by children in the classroom and that these children speak these languages to their parents at home,' he says.

'They should inform themselves of what the research shows about learning multiple languages.

'If children develop two languages to a reasonably high level, they gain a lot of benefits for their overall educational development.'

He says teachers can also encourage parents to continue to speak to their children in their mother language.

'It won't hinder them picking up English because English is something they will be immersed in at school,' he says.

Languages in the Education State

The Department has launched posters to celebrate the importance of mother languages and encourage parents to speak to their children in the language they know best.

In Victoria, all schools are required to provide instruction in eight different learning areas, one of which is languages.

Speaking two or more languages will make your child a better thinker and communicator, giving them advantages at school and in life.