Events Worldwide

Is multiculturalism possible without multilingualism?

Documentary
2007
Melbourne, Australia

A documentary by
Siobhan Maiden

Is the notion of Australia being a multicultural country one that is under threat by Australians being predominantly mono-lingual?
Without nurturing language learning and supporting multilingualism, Australia’s image of diverse cultures existing in harmony could be a façade. There is some evidence of providing the means to support it, however the empowerment that language brings has not fully been harnessed in a country that has a huge potential to be a bridge in cross cultural communication.
Bilingualism shapes identity and develops strong cognitive skills, yet Australia is essentially a country that is proudly monolingual. This film will highlight examples of how speaking more than one language empowers and creates a stronger sense of identity and confidence in a country where 240 languages are spoken.

DETAILED SYNOPSIS

Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society. Over 100 different ethnicities live together as Australian citizens, and interact relatively harmoniously. State and federal governments support cultural festivals and celebrations of ethnic groups within Australia, however support or focus towards the maintenance of the languages these people speak changes with each government. Without language, is multiculturalism just a token façade of a cosmopolitan society? Language brings ability and power, but it must be nurtured and supported by a community, not just by an individual.

This short film will explore how the retention of people’s first language is a necessary part of multiculturalism. It will not present a single viewpoint, but rather pose a range of questions, including:

• Is bilingualism necessary in order to retain cultural identity of migrants?
• Does learning another language result in people becoming more adaptable and flexible in other aspects of life, therefore making a more cohesive and progressive society?
• Does Australia want to be progressive or are we becoming more conservative with our policies and attitude towards the use of foreign languages in Australia?
• Do attitudes or policies vary greatly in different states? What are some of the more successful policies in supporting language learning?
• How does the situation compare in the most multicultural state Victoria, to a state such as Tasmania with few migrants, a state that is learning about the role language plays in creating a multicultural state?
• What wishes do migrants have for their children regarding identity and language? What hopes do young migrants have, and what has shaped their relationship to language? Are they proud of their bilingualism?
• Has language empowered Australians and what are the challenges they have faced both having language skills and not having them?

The film will follow people from a range of ethnic backgrounds who will reveal how language shapes their identity and has empowered them. Some of these people may include:



• Middle aged migrant women from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran who have set up a catering service in Carlton, an inner city suburb of Melbourne. The women have more language skills than their husbands, and as a result have been able to create employment opportunities for themselves, using both their native languages and English in a catering service cooking their traditional foods. How has this shaped their identity? How has language opened doors for them and empowered them? What challenges has this empowerment posed in their home lives?

• Sudanese migrants who have settled in Launceston, Tasmania. Launceston is a town that has had a largely Anglo Saxon society. While some European migrants settled here in the 1950’s to work on the Hydro system, the population is not used to seeing or interacting with African migrants. The Sudanese living in Launceston are learning English and have managed to retain aspects of their own culture while adopting aspects of an Australian culture. What challenges do they face in a town where you don’t hear people speaking a range of languages in the main street? How has the support of language learning empowered them, and how has their new language enriched a regional community?

• Children who attend the bilingual school at Richmond North, and speak Vietnamese at home with their parents and learn in both Vietnamese and English at school. Is a bilingual education the optimal way to retain languages and culture, or is it too removed from the mainstream? How do the children relate to language? When do they choose to use English, and when do they choose to speak in their native language? The State Government of Victoria is funding free workshops to assist families who want to raise their children bilingually, so there is evidence on a state level of governments supporting bilingualism.

• 14 year old Leo is trilingual. His mother comes from Italy, his father from Latvia and they live in Melbourne. Most of Leo’s friends can’t speak another language, but Leo speaks three. His ability to speak three languages has opened his eyes to difference, and developed his confidence in many areas. How has language empowered him and how difficult is it for him to maintain three languages a predominantly mono-lingual country of Australia?

• A migrant family have three children who don’t want to learn their parent’s mother tongue as ‘no one else speaks it here’. The parents are disappointed; however they rely on their children to assist writing documents in English, as their English language skills are oral only.The responsibility and power has shifted from the parents to the children and their sense of identity has changed now that they are bilingual. How does the family cope with the differing perspectives between generations? Is this an inherent part of a multicultural society?

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