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Context statement

The place of the Spanish language and the cultures of Spanish speakers in Australia and in the world

Spanish is a global language spoken by approximately 500 million people across the world. Spanish evolved from Latin on the Iberian Peninsula in around the ninth century, and travelled from Spain to the Caribbean and to North, Central and South America as a result of the expeditions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The language has been enriched by many other languages, including Arabic, Basque, Greek, French, English and the indigenous languages of the Americas.

Today, most Spanish-speaking countries are plurilingual, and the indigenous languages of these countries – such as the Guaraní language of Paraguay, and Quechua, Aymara and more than 30 other languages in Bolivia – are co-official with Spanish. Spain also has other official languages besides Spanish, including Catalan, Galician and Basque/Euskera.

The migration of Spanish speakers to Australia began in the nineteenth century and increased during the twentieth century with people migrating from countries such as Spain, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Guatemala. Patterns of migration of Spanish speakers to Australia during the twentieth century were influenced by a variety of factors, including economic and political circumstances. Migration from Spanish-speaking countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador continues in the twenty-first century and is currently influenced by interest in tertiary education and employment opportunities presented by trade agreements in sectors such as mining, agriculture, defence, technology and education. Due to this steady history of migration from Spanish-speaking countries to Australia, Spanish remains an important community language throughout Australia.

The place of the Spanish language in Australian education

The universities were the first Australian educational institutions to undertake the formal teaching of Spanish. By the end of the 1960s, Spanish language departments had been established in a number of Australian universities.

Spanish language programs are currently available in all states and territories at all levels of schooling. Programs are offered across all educational sectors, including community language schools and other after-hours providers. Many university and school Spanish programs provide opportunities for Australian students to enrich their language learning through travel to Spanish-speaking countries.

The work of Spanish-speaking artists, musicians, writers and scientists is studied in a range of learning areas across the curriculum in Australian schools. These works inform the selection of key types of texts and learning experiences offered to students through the Spanish language curriculum. These cross-curricular links make language learning more meaningful for students.

The nature of Spanish language learning

As Spanish belongs to the family of Romance languages, derived from Latin, it has many lexical and structural connections with English as well as other European languages. As a result of this relationship, knowledge of Spanish can facilitate the learning of other languages from the Romance family, such as Catalan, Galician, Italian, French, Portuguese and Romanian.

Distinctive characteristics and features of the Spanish language guide the teaching and learning of the language in schools. The close correspondence between the written and spoken forms of Spanish assists with spelling and the development of literacy in general as well as with speaking and listening skills.

Although the Spanish alphabet and writing system are similar to those of English, there are some differences in these features that present challenges for Australian students. These features include the use of accents, inverted question and exclamation marks at the beginning of questions and exclamations, and the distinctive letter ñ.

Word order in Spanish differs from English, most noticeably in the positioning of adjectives after nouns. Subject pronouns are often omitted in Spanish where they would be required in English. It is not necessary to invert the subject and the verb to form a question, or to use auxiliary verbs in negative and interrogative constructions, hence intonation and stress are important for making meaning.

The diversity of learners of Spanish

The majority of learners of Spanish in Australia are studying it as a second or additional language. There are also a number of background learners of Spanish, who have varying degrees of prior knowledge of the language. Most students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds are second or third generation, and in many cases several languages are spoken in their home environment. Despite having some exposure to Spanish at home, students may have varying levels of language and literacy skills. The Australian Curriculum: Languages – Spanish Foundation to Year 10 has been developed for second language learners but is flexible enough that teachers can adapt it to suit the varying needs of the full range of other learners in the classroom.