AFTER studying Chinese as an Australian student at a French university, Rebeca Tamas knows how difficult learning a second language – or in her case, a fifth – can be.
Ms Tamas, 26, is head teacher of language and literacy at Warners Bay High and a polyglot, or someone who knows and is able to speak several languages.
She teaches students Chinese Beginners, French and Japanese and also speaks Romanian and Spanish.
“Mandarin Chinese is a much harder language to learn than the others,” Ms Tamas said.
“100 per cent of the written language is made up of pictures and there’s over 20,000 pictures.
“Even to read a newspaper you need to know 2000 pictures. Tone is also important.
“But we firmly believe it will give students that extra edge in employability and better career prospects.
“It’s going to be the language of the future and they’re going to get a competitive advantage.”
Already, one of Ms Tamas’ former students who studied Chinese Beginners for the Higher School Certificate last year has started earning $75,000 in his new role as a cryptologic linguist with the navy. But he is a rarity.
Warners Bay High, Whitebridge High, Newcastle Grammar, Saturday School of Community Languages at Merewether High and St Bede’s Catholic College, Chisholm, are understood to be the only schools in the region teaching the language.
“We talk about this being the start of the Asian century and needing to form a partnership with Asia, but we’re not studying the language,” she said.
“We’re not really preparing students for the future we’re talking about and that we know is coming.”
Ms Tamas will fly to China on March 24 under the NSW Premier’s Kingold Chinese Language Teacher Scholarship and spend a month visiting 16 international schools teaching Chinese to non-Chinese students, plus five other educational institutions.
“We have to make it fun or we won’t get kids in. I want to talk to teachers about what strategies they’re using to make it more engaging for teens, beyond chalk and talk and textbooks,” she said.
“Things like games and stories and songs that make it feel lighter and easier.
“I’ll then bring back to the Hunter all the things I find and share that with the professional network.”
She will create a booklet and YouTube videos for colleagues.
“This year we have a new language syllabus – we have to link everything to the real world.
“We used to test listening, reading, writing and speaking but can’t test just one skill on its own anymore, it has to be based on interaction and two-way communication.
“We have to readjust, but it will change things for the better.”
While language “is not a huge key learning area in all schools, Hunter teachers are known for being passionate and engaged”.
Read more education news here.