The place of the French language and culture in Australia and in the world
French is a major world language, spoken as the first language in more than two dozen countries on five continents and as an official language in 33 countries. First language speakers include the 67 million inhabitants of mainland France; those living in the territorial communities of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands, as well as in French overseas departments such as French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the island of Réunion; 80 percent of the inhabitants of Québec; and significant communities in Luxembourg, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are also many French-based creole languages, such as Haitian, developed through French colonial contact. French is a language of diplomacy, used by many international organisations, and is the dominant working language at the European Court of Justice. French culture has contributed to the shaping of global movements and traditions associated with domains such as the arts, cinema, philosophy and cultural theory, as well as fashion, design, food and wine.
Australia and the French-speaking world have significant shared history and strong contemporary connections. First French arrivals in the eighteenth century were explorers, followed by small numbers of prisoners, refugees and government officials who involved themselves in trade, commerce and agriculture. Migrants from maritime regions such as Aquitaine and Normandy arrived in the early nineteenth century, followed by French recruits to the Victorian gold rush (1852–71). Many stayed and settled as agriculturalists, winemakers, traders and tradesmen. By the beginning of the twentieth century there was an established French community in the colony, with its own chamber of commerce, French-language newspaper, major shipping interests and involvement in the growing wool trade. The ends of both world wars brought further migrants, including war brides of Australian servicemen, and people taking advantage of the government-assisted passage scheme at the close of World War II. The gaining of independence by French colonies in the 1950s and 1960s saw numbers of French families choosing to migrate to Australia rather than return to France. The past five decades have continued to see a steady movement of migrants between France and other French-speaking countries and territories and Australia, with approximately 0.5 percent of the Australian population identifying as having French ancestry.
Current links between Australia and the French-speaking world are strong, characterised by bilateral relationships in trade and investment, educational exchanges, research and development in science and technology, humanitarian and environmental initiatives, and communications, strategic and defence priorities. The Pacific region is a particularly important focus of bilateral engagement. France is a leading destination for Australian travellers, and a partner in work-exchange opportunities in hospitality, tourism and international relations. Large numbers of young Australians visit France and other French-speaking countries each year on student or working visas.
The place of the French language in Australian education
French has been taught in Australian schools and universities since the 1880s. Originally offered with Italian and German as a modern language option alongside classical languages, it was valued as an important academic and cultural discipline and a means of accessing the intellectual and cultural heritage of France. The move to communicatively based approaches to teaching in the 1970s, together with improved communications and travel opportunities, increased interest in French as an option for more learners. As Asian languages joined European languages in school programs, numbers of students learning French declined, but French continues to be studied at all levels across all states and territories and is currently the third most widely studied language in schools. Wider community interest in learning French is strong, as evidenced by enrolments in courses offered by regional branches of the Alliance Française and the proliferation of informal community-based French conversation groups and language clubs.
The nature of French language learning
French is an Indo-European language and belongs to the family of Romance languages derived from the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire. It is closely related to English, due to the shared influence of Latin and to the fact that French was the official language of the English court, administration and culture for 300 years after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. This involvement with French contributed significantly to the developing English language. There are more than 1700 words that are used in both languages (for example, danger, saint, magazine, tact). In this sense French is already partly familiar to English-speaking learners. This familiarity supports early stages of learning.
French uses the same Roman alphabet as English, although its pronunciation of the letters differs significantly and the use of accents on some letters is an additional complexity for English-speaking learners. There are many similarities between the two grammatical systems, such as the same basic subject-verb-object order, but also differences, such as in the use of tenses, the gendering of nouns and adjectives, the marking of plural forms of nouns and adjectives, and the use of articles and capital letters. The sound system is usually the main challenge for English-speaking learners, including as it does some novel sounds (such as the pronunciation of the letters r and u), letters which are silent, and unfamiliar liaisons and intonation and rhythm patterns.
The diversity of learners of French
French programs in Australian schools are offered to a range of learners, including some who are following immersion or partial immersion programs. Many are monolingual English speakers who are learning French as their first experience of another language. A relatively small number have existing connections with French, either as background speakers, second- or third-generation French Australians, or through professional, personal or other forms of connection. For learners from language backgrounds with very different grammatical and vocabulary systems such as Chinese or Korean, learning French will represent similar challenges to those which frame their experience of learning English as their language of schooling; but these learners have the advantage of having developed skills and understandings associated with learning and using additional languages.
The Australian Curriculum: Languages for French is pitched to second language learners; that is, to the dominant cohort of learners in the current Australian context for whom French is an additional language. It has been developed according to two main learning trajectories for these learners, Foundation to Year 10 Sequence and Years 7–10 (Year 7 Entry) Sequence. Teachers will use the curriculum to cater for learners of different backgrounds by making appropriate adjustments to differentiate learning experiences for these students.
For students learning French for the first time in a school language program, a key dimension of the curriculum involves understanding the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by the language. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in intercultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world, and to understand more about themselves in the process.