Monash University

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Australian community languages teachers: a phenomenological study

Version 2 2017-05-15, 05:08
Version 1 2017-02-09, 03:24
posted on 2017-05-15, 05:08 authored by Gindidis, Maria
ABSTRACT Australian community language teachers: a phenomenological study In 2013, the Community Languages of Victoria (CLAV) website stated that more than 36,000 children, every Saturday, join a community language school class in one of 182 locations over Victoria, conducted by one of the 1,312 language teachers in one of 42 different languages. A parallel situation occurs in all other Australian states and territories. Yet, despite decades of research into the educational, cognitive, linguistic and cultural benefits of multilingualism (Cummins, 1984; Clyne, 2003; Bialystock, 2007), the teaching of community languages in Australia and specifically the experiences of teachers in these schools continues to be poorly researched. On reviewing the literature and research for community languages in Australia, there was little information on community language teachers in their own voices or about their own experiences. This study has two purposes. The first is to explore community language teachers’ stories as a starting point for understanding the complex nature of community languages teaching in Victoria, Australia today. The second purpose is to investigate a perceived growing concern that for some languages, the term ‘community’ may no longer be applicable, as learners access these schools with little knowledge of their ‘community’ language. This in turn has heralded the need to re-conceptualise the teaching and support for these schools. The challenge now lies in the complex nature of how these schools have navigated and continue to navigate generational shift and the changing parental and learner needs they currently represent. Research in this study uses the lens of teacher perspectives. I chose to research and document the ‘voices’ of teachers working in six different schools representing three of the largest languages of current Victorian community language programs. It is hoped that results from the data collected in these older and more established community school programs may be used to assist teachers of newer languages in their quest to maintain and sustain their community language and culture in the future. Research from the six selected schools falls within what Shulman (1986) termed “classroom ecology” where teaching is presumed to be highly complex, context specific and where differences across classrooms and schools are critically important. Through telling these community language teachers’ stories what is offered are insights into the particulars of how and why something works and for whom. This research is a multiple phenomenological case study that values teachers’ experiences and sees them as a contributing factor to the development of knowledge based on practice (Shulman, 1986). Data was collected via semi-structured interviews and the personal narrative reflections of each teacher. The teachers in this study were, at the time of this research, teaching in six different schools across three languages: Chinese, Greek and Arabic. Two teachers were chosen, representing one language. Each of the two teachers differed in the number of years teaching their language. Each of the ‘older’ teachers referred to in the study had ten or more years teaching experience, whilst the ‘younger’ teachers had taught for less than five years. The method of in-depth phenomenological interviewing was chosen for this study because it allowed for an understanding of how the participants assigned meanings to their own experiences (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002; Seidman, 1998). The interviews were guided by general themes, as the rationale for this approach was that it allowed the interviewees to have greater control over the topics. Priority was given to following the participants’ lead, exploring the issues they raised, and developing follow-up questions around those topics. The phenomenological interview approach is an emic one, in which the interviewer’s basic work is to listen actively and to move the interview forward by building on what a participant has already shared (Seidman, 1998). The thesis includes the ‘insider’ voice of the researcher in a contextualised introduction to the data findings. This positions both the researcher’s interest and experience in the field. The data collected reflects information about their careers, challenges, successes and concerns about the maintenance of their community languages for future generations in Victoria. This research also documents concerns amongst teachers that many of their learners now access their schools with little knowledge of their ‘community’ language. Generational shift and language attrition in all three languages researched had given birth to a new hybrid student identity that each teacher tried to both articulate and understand. This study hopes to shape policy and debates concerning languages education and the resourcing of the current community languages programs across Victoria.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jane Southcott

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash University. Faculty of Education. Education


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education