Describing School Achievement in Asian Languages for Diverse Learner Groups
  • ISSN 0155-0640
  • E-ISSN: 1833-7139


While Chinese language learning in Australian schools is characterised by predominantly second language programs for learners who have had no prior exposure to the target language, there is increasing participation by Australian-born children who speak Putonghua (Mandarin) or another dialect at home. Curriculum and assessment frameworks and syllabuses at senior secondary level have responded to the diversity in learner background through the provision of separate curricula and assessment schemes for different learner groups based on country of birth, prior educational experience and languages used at home. However the impact of learner background on learning and achievement as learners progress through Chinese language programs both in primary and secondary school remains under-researched. In particular, evidence of how the performance of second language learners differs from that of learners who a) speak the language at home and b) may have substantial community schooling experience beyond the school classroom, or c) were born and initially educated in Chinese, is very limited.

This paper reports on the results of the Student Achievement in Asian Languages Education (SAALE) Project (Scarino et al., 2011; Scarino, this issue and Elder, Kim & Knoch, this issue) with regard to student achievement in Chinese. It focuses on the writing performance of Year 10 learners of Chinese and considers specifically the impact of language background by comparing performances between Australian-born students who do and do not speak Chinese at home. Scores assigned to students’ writing gathered on common test procedures confirms the expectation that background language learners perform at significantly higher levels and suggests that the two groups also differ in the nature of that performance. The implications of this data for the teaching, learning and assessment of Chinese in schools, and for the appropriate provision of programs for these different groups of learners is discussed.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Clyne, M. , Fernandez, S. & Grey, F.
    (2004) Languages taken at school and languages spoken in the community: A comparative perspective. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 27(2), 1–17.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Elder, C.
    (1996) The effect of language background on ‘foreign’ language test performance: The case of Chinese, Italian and Modern Greek. Language Learning, 46(2), 233–282. doi: 10.1111/j.1467‑1770.1996.tb01236.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1996.tb01236.x [Google Scholar]
  3. (1997) The background speaker as learner of Italian, Modern Greek and Chinese: Implications for foreign language assessment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, University of Melbourne.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. (2000a) Learner diversity and its implications for outcomes-based assessment. In C. Elder (Ed.), Defining standards and monitoring progress in languages other than English. Guest edited issue of the Australian Review of Applied Linguistics , 23(2), and 36–61.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. (2000b) Outing the ‘native speaker’: The problem of diverse learner backgrounds in foreign language classrooms. Language Curriculum and Culture, 13(1), 86–108. doi: 10.1080/07908310008666591
    https://doi.org/10.1080/07908310008666591 [Google Scholar]
  6. >Elder, C. , Kim, H. & Knoch, U.
    (this issue). Documenting the diversity of learner achievements in Asian languages using common measures.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. He, A. W. & Y. Xiao
    (2008) Chinese as a heritage Language: fostering rooted world citizenry. University of Hawaii, Manoa HI: National Foreign Language Research Center.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Hill, K. , Iwashita, N. , McNamara, T. , Scarino, A. , & Scrimgeour, A.
    (2004) A report on assessing student outcomes in Asian languages (Japanese and Indonesian). Report tothe Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Kondo-Brown, K.
    (Ed.) (2006) Heritage Language Development: Focus on East Asian Immigrants (pp.1–14). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/sibil.32.03kon
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sibil.32.03kon [Google Scholar]
  10. Kondo-Brown, K. & Brown, J. D.
    (Eds.) (2008) Teaching Chinese Japanese & Korean heritage language students. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Lo Bianco, J. & Liu, G.
    (2007) Teaching Chinese, teaching in Chinese and teaching the Chinese: Australian perspectives. In J. Lo Bianco (Ed.) Emergence of Chinese, Language Policy (pp.95–117). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Lynch, A.
    (2003) The relationship between second and heritage language acquisition: notes on research and theory building. Heritage Language Journal, 1. Retrieved fromhlj.ucla.edu.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Orton, J.
    (2008) Chinese language education in Australian schools. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. (2011) Educating Chinese language teachers – some fundamentals. In L. Tsung & K. Cruickshank , (Eds.), Teaching and learning Chinese in global contexts. London: Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Polinsky, M.
    (2008) Heritage Language Narratives. In D. Brinton , O. Kagan & S. Bauckus , (Eds.), Heritage language education: A new field emerging (pp.149–164). New York: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Scarino, A. , Scrimgeour, A. , Elder, C. & Brown, A.
    (1998) Development of language-specific proficiency descriptors: Chinese, Indonesian, and Korean. Report tothe Australian Government Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Canberra
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Scarino, A. , Elder, C. , Iwashita, N. , Kim, S. H. O. , Kohler, M. & Scrimgeour, A.
    (2011) Student Achivement in Asian Languages Education. Full report. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations: Canberra.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Scarino, A.
    (this issue). A rationale for acknowledging the diversity of learner achievements in learning particular languages in school education in Australia.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Scrimgeour, A.
    (2010a) The yin-yang of Chinese language teaching in Australia; The challenges native speaker trainee teachers face in the Chinese classroom. In A. J. Liddicoat & A. Scarino , (Eds.), Languages in Australian education: Problems, prospects and future directions (pp.127–144). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Scrimgeour A.
    (2010b) The changing context of Chinese second language teaching in Australia. Education Quarterly Australia, Summer, 34–37.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. (2011a) Issues and approaches to literacy development in Chinese second language classrooms. In L. Tsung & K. Cruickshank , (Eds.), Teaching and learning Chinese in global contexts (pp.197–212). London: Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. (2011b) Reflections on Chinese teaching in Australian schools, with recommendations for future resource development. In Confucius Institute, the bimonthly journal of the HanBan; Office for Teaching Chinese International, 14(3), 30–37.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Scrimgeour, A. & Wilson, P.
    (2009) A review of the international curriculum for Chinese language education. Babel, 43(2), 35–7.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Tsung L. & K. Cruickshank
    (2011) Teaching and learning Chinese in global contexts. London: Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Valdes, G.
    (2001) Heritage language students: Profiles and possibilities. In J. K. Peyton , D. A. Ranard & S. McGinnis (Eds.), Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp.37–77). McHenry, IL: Delta Systems Co., Inc.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. (2005) Bilingualism, heritage language learners, and SLA research: Opportunities lost or seized?Modern Language Journal, 89(3), 410–426. doi: 10.1111/j.1540‑4781.2005.00314.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2005.00314.x [Google Scholar]
  27. Wu, S.
    (2008) Robust learning for Chinese Heritage Learners: motivation, linguistics and technology. In K. Kondo-Brown & J. D. Brown (Eds.), Teaching Chinese Japanese & Korean heritage language students (pp.271–297). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Xiao, Y.
    (2009) Teaching Chinese as a heritage language; Keys to success. In M. Everson & Y. Xiao (Eds.), Teaching Chinese as a foreign language, theories and applications (pp.175–192). Boston MA: Cheng & Tsui.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. (2010) Discourse features and development in Chinese L2writing in M. Everson & H. H. Shen (Eds.), Research among learners of Chinese as a foreign language. (Chinese Language Teachers Association monograph series: Vol4) (pp.133–151). Honolulu, HI: National Foreign Language Resource Center.
    [Google Scholar]
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error