Interview Andrew Ferguson Supporting language teaching and learning in Australia

Andrew Ferguson with the current President of the MLTAV, Gabriella Bertolissi
Andrew Ferguson with the current President of the MLTAV, Gabriella Bertolissi | © Darren O'Connor

The Modern Language Teachers’ Association of Victoria (MLTAV) is a professional association for language teachers and is the umbrella organisation for approximately 22 Single Language Associations (SLAs) in Victoria. In cooperation with the SLAs and other partner organisations, the MLTAV supports teachers and learners of languages throughout Victoria. The MLTAV aims to encourage and promote the learning of languages as an essential part of the school curriculum.

In May of 2017, the MLTAV held a seventieth Platinum Anniversary Awards Celebration Dinner to celebrate the significant achievements of individual teachers and the organisation itself over the last 70 years. Andrew Ferguson, current Treasurer and former President of the association, received an Honorary Life Membership for his contributions over the past eleven years. We talked to him about the teaching and learning of languages in Australia and the benefit of the MLTAV’s work.

Andrew Ferguson with his Life Membership Certificate Award Andrew Ferguson with his Life Membership Certificate Award | © Darren O'Connor Mr Ferguson, you were President of the MLTAV for eleven years. What do you see as the main achievements of the association during this time?

We have raised the profile of Languages [In Victoria, the term ‘Languages’ with a capital ‘L’ is used to refer to languages other than English. The term is used correspondingly in this interview] teaching and the organisation, to the point where politicians in Victoria, school leaders, teachers, students and the wider community are now much more aware of both the importance of multilingualism, including maintenance of first Language(s), and the work of our organisation. This has been achieved in cooperation with strategic partners, including cultural organisations such as the Goethe-Institut, and with the significant support of the Victorian government, working together with SLAs, for example the Association of German Teachers of Victoria (AGTV).

Additionally, we have renewed both our organisation’s corporate image to appear much more vibrant and improved internal processes to run as efficiently as possible, recognising that we are an organisation of volunteers. This improvement and our proactive networking, have led to considerable success in attracting significant funding for our initiatives.

Multilingualism – an underestimated resource

The MLTAV aims to promote the teaching and learning of Languages. Why should the acquisition of Languages be deemed important in Australia?

Monolingual Anglo-Saxon Australians have traditionally been somewhat smug in their attitude that ‘English is enough’. This is clearly not true in our contemporary multicultural and internationalised society, through which we are all now global citizens. The capacities to communicate in various Languages and in an interculturally sensitive manner, are essential for individuals to succeed personally and professionally in today’s world, as well as to contribute to building a tolerant and harmonious society in Australia.

Gabriella Bertolissi (President, MLTAV) with Brigitte Ankenbrand Gabriella Bertolissi (President, MLTAV) with Brigitte Ankenbrand | © Darren O'Connor The MLTAV supports not only mainstream programs in schools that teach Languages, but also the maintenance of home and Australia’s first Languages. Respect for Language Rights as an Integral Part of Human Rights, as outlined by UNESCO, is integral to our work.

The MLTAV supports teachers and learners of Languages. How is this support put into practice in Victoria? How can teachers and learners access services?

We support teachers and learners of Languages throughout Victoria by providing quality services, including professional learning opportunities, advocacy and consultancy. These services are advertised on our website and members of MLTAV receive regular updates via our various publications, including the eJournal, Languages Victoria. In particular, MLTAV can assist schools to monitor the quality of their Languages program through an individually-tailored audit process.

Developing a national framework

What developments would you like to observe in the near future in regards to the teaching and learning of Languages in Australia? How can the MLTAV contribute to these developments?

Australia suffers greatly from the fact that we have neither a national Languages policy, nor an institution dedicated to overseeing Languages initiatives and programs. Over recent decades Federal funding for Languages has been sporadic and unreliable.

Through our umbrella organisation, the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA), we would like to see some long-term planning, coordinated by national and State/Territory governments, with a commitment to significant funding of initiatives, to improve the availability and quality of delivery of Languages education throughout Australia.

Gabriella Bertolissi (President, MLTAV) with Jaclyn Curnow Gabriella Bertolissi (President, MLTAV) with Jaclyn Curnow | © Darren O'Connor At the seventieth Platinum Anniversary Award Celebration Dinner in May, you were awarded an MLTAV Honorary Life Membership for your ongoing work at the MLTAV. What does the life membership mean to you?

I am greatly honoured by this award. I am already a Life Member of the AGTV, having been very active for over 20 years with this organisation, including seven years as President, and also with the Network of Australian Teachers of German since its inception in 2002.

Working with the MLTAV has been a natural progression from my work with this SLA and whilst stressful and arduous at times, it has been an honour to contribute to furthering the work of the organisation, supporting teachers and advocating for quality Languages programs in Victorian schools, a cause to which I have been dedicated all my professional teaching career.

Thank you for the interview!