what's happening / news / NSW FCLS launch of report – What are Languages Worth? -Speech from the Hon. Mark Coure MP

NSW FCLS launch of report – What are Languages Worth? -Speech from the Hon. Mark Coure MP

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered this evening.

In doing so, I wish to pay my respects to their elders—past, present and emerging.

I would like to acknowledge our hosts:

  • Ms Lucia Johns, President, NSW Federation of Community Language Schools
  • Mr Michael Christodoulou AM, CEO of the NSW Federation of Community Language Schools, and their fantastic team

I would also like to acknowledge distinguished guests, who include:

  • Dr Alice Chik, Associate Professor of the Multilingualism Research Centre at Macquarie University
  • Ms Hilary Hughes, Director of Community Languages and International Programs, Schools Performance North, Department of Education
  • Ms Sana Zreika, Principal, Secondary College of Languages
  • My parliamentary colleagues
  • Principals and teachers of community language schools

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Parliament House to launch the important paper:

"What are languages worth? Community Languages for the future of New South Wales.

As many of you know, I am passionate about our community language skills. Not just because I am the Minister for Multiculturalism, but because I believe learning a second language is a priority if we are to become a truly global city. And what we have learned from Dr Chik’s report only strengthens my conviction that community languages are invaluable to the future of NSW.

Sydney, in particular, is a highly multilingual city in a highly multilingual state. Twenty-five per cent of us in New South Wales speak another language at home. And this figure rises to 35 per cent in greater Sydney.

Of course, having another language under our belts expands our capacity for global trade and international cooperation. These skills don’t only have relevance to global companies.

Preserving community languages also contribute to our State’s economic growth. In 2019-20, small to medium enterprises employed 1.6 million people, accounting for 43 per cent of private-sector employment in New South Wales.

Just over a third of small business owners were born overseas and many successful Australian small to medium enterprises also use the language skills of their migrant workforces. By doing this, we capitalise on our successful multiculturalism in a practical way. Business connections forged through a shared language are vital to entrepreneurship and they also help newer and emerging communities feel settled and welcome.

Language skills also contribute to the development of the language services industry—employing the translators and interpreters we needed so much during the pandemic. This sector is estimated to exceed 50 billion US dollars globally and it has expanded substantially as COVID accelerated the demand for language services.

Languages also play a vital role in our two biggest export earners in the service sector—international education and tourism. That’s not to mention contributions to our cultural life here, as we see through the many multicultural celebrations and festivals across the suburbs every weekend.

This report tells us that the biggest threat to community languages is the loss of family languages in our second and third generation Aussie’s. Only by bolstering languages in mainstream and community language schools can we address this loss.

Like this paper, the OECD’s 2020 report ‘How language learning opens doors’ also recognises the need for young people to learn another language. Because foreign languages are an important driver towards better job opportunities, greater career development and educational prospects.

Their data shows that, overall, expectations about completing tertiary education and working as a manager or a professional are higher among students who speak more than one language. They are also higher among students who learn another language at school compared to those who are not.

Importantly, these patterns are still observed even after accounting for the socio-economic profile of students and schools. For many years I have strongly supported the work of the Federation of Community Language Schools.

I thank the thousands of voluntary teachers who work tirelessly at the 250 schools in 460 different locations across our state. You continually strive for excellence by undertaking further training and your efforts – a lot of which is voluntary – to develop curricular materials in 57 different languages, should not be understated. I also thank the 30,000 students for their dedication and achievements.

The NSW Government is proud to support the federation with grants for its vital work in supporting multicultural communities. As Minister for Multiculturalism, I appreciate the opportunity to be the voice of multicultural communities right across our State and to ensure that consideration for multicultural communities remains at the centre of Government decision-making. We set an example to the rest of the world in how diverse communities can live and thrive together.

More than anything, that is because we value the hope and opportunity that Australia offers us all.

Once again, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all community language teachers and the Federation for supporting this vital research. We need more detailed research out there focusing on enhancing the language capabilities of our state. We also need more research that recognises the importance and contribution of language and diversity to NSW. I look forward to taking part in this endeavour because this is something we can all be proud of.

Thank you all for your tireless voluntary efforts to pass on language, culture and traditions to generations of Aussies.