Keep it alive  

• Dr Sender Dovchin (backrow second from right) with Mongol School WA founders, advisors and students at the school’s opening ceremony.

WA’s first Mongolian language and culture school has opened at Curtin University in Perth.

There are less than 400 Mongols living in WA and second generation kids are in danger of losing all trace of their heritage unless they speak the language and learn about Mongolian culture, says Curtin Uni’s Dr Sender Dovchin.

The applied linguist notes that a lot of Mongols settling in WA have an Australian spouse, who they likely met in Mongolia working for a mining company like Rio Tinto.

“It means if one parent is Mongolian and other one is Australian, Mongolian language is hardly used in the household,” Dr Dovchin says.

“Overall, a majority of Mongolian background children in WA use only English in at school and at home, and the Mongolian language, including the culture is under threat of loss in the context of WA.”

The not-for-profit school held its first class on October 3 and had its official opening on October 30 with 60 guests, parents and children attending.

Anyone can attend the school, which aims to promote the Mongolian language and culture to the wider WA community.

Dr Dovchin says they uses an innovative task-based approach to teach the language.

“Mongolian language learners will be able to focus on both meaning and form, which facilitates the development of accuracy as well as fluency and complexity in Mongolia. This approach has been successfully applied in a range of migrant contexts around the world, such as the US, the UK, Australia, Belgium and New Zealand, among others. This innovative approach allows learners to discuss experiences that they have actually had or practise situations they will find themselves in the future.”

Mongolia has a relatively small population of three million and there are fears the native language could be subtly phased out in bilingual schools in Inner Mongolia, a region of Northern China, where Mongolian and Chinese are taught.

In Inner Mongolia less than 40 per cent of Mongol parents choose Mongolian bilingual schools for their children; the rest are enrolled in mainstream Chinese schools. 

Dr Dovchin says if the second generation in Australia don’t learn the language it could fizzle out altogether in the ex-pat community.

“Despite Australia’s multicultural society, many migrants’ language and culture is at loss,” she says.

“For example, Italians and Greeks are losing their language at a faster rate than other migrant groups in Australia.

“In the last decade, there has been a major decline of people speaking Italian and Greek at home.

“There are many factors for this loss but one of the common facts is that most of post-war Italian migrants in Australia spoke only specific dialects as their first language, while did not necessarily pass on Italian to the second generation.”

For more info about the school go to http://www.curtin.edu.au

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

 

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