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We are illiterate

By Jennifer Grant - posted Thursday, 3 May 2012

It is time Australians awoke to the fact that we are largely illiterate.

We need to have a debate about this deficit which Australia faces in the twenty-first century. And then we must find serious solutions which will actually work.

Australians are largely illiterate in the eyes of the Chinese.


Yet learning to read and write Chinese is commonplace for millions of young people around the world.

Tutors and academic lecturers in our Australian universities still labour under the misapprehension that their language is difficult, and that non-Chinese generally struggle to learn it.

Chinese is not a difficult language. It is not just for the academically able or those identified as having superior intellectual ability. Chinese is common and accessible.

It is time that people in positions of authority, across our educational systems throughout Australia, became aware of this.

There are children and adults in this country who are learning Chinese easily – because of practical commonsense teaching.

However, these Australians are learning mainly outside the educational systems.


Why is this so?

When you enter an Australian school the teachers who are in the languages faculty are usually European language trained. This is no basis for learning and teaching the tonal spoken languages of Asian countries such as China.

Mandarin Chinese is tonal and to master the speech students need to be taught in rhymes and not songs. Students must be able to hear the language and to pronounce it clearly using the tonal variations.

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About the Author

Since Jennifer Grant was sent to China in the 1970s, on a full Australian government scholarship, she has been bilingual in Mandarin and English. She is also literate in Chinese, which means that she can read and write the language which all Chinese use regardless of dialect spoken.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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