Maintaining Slovenian Language

Community Language Schools

Maintaining Slovenian became crucial as soon as the second, post-migrant generation entered the school system. Slovenian language gradually became exclusively the language of the home and the means of communication within the generation of parents and their circle of friends. As the children started to attend school they began to use English as their main language. Progressively they began to lose the ability to speak Slovenian, with the corresponding tendency to answer in English when spoken to in Slovenian.
Slovenian cultural ambience remained strong. It included the security of family environment and home with Slovenian customs and traditions, a Slovenian lifestyle, a circle of relatives, family friends and their children. Slovenian church, community gatherings and Slovenian traditional fare also played a strong role. Slovenian came to mean emotional ties with parents and their cultural heritage, as reflected in traditions, customs, music and song; to a certain extent also in religion, since for many the church and the culture were inextricably bound with their identity and daily life.
Planica folk dance group in the early nineties. Folklore dancing played a vital role in the cultural life of the community. The young Slovenians danced at cultural events and have represented the community at multicultural events. This is still the case in 2003.
The very young are encouraged to participate in cultural events. With Štefan Merzel the president of the Slovenian National Council of Victoria 1997.
The second Father s Day celebration at Planica, in 1975. The students of the Planica Slovenian school have prepared a program.
The Slovenian class of the Ivan Cankar Association in Geelong in 1978, with the teachers Francka Deželak and Marta Jelenko, and Aleksandra Ceferin. Many of the students later attended Victorian School of Languages and completed the Higher School Certificate in Slovenian.
For these children growing up in Australia the cultural and family background was enriching and emotionally satisfying. However growth and development as individuals both personal and social came from school and the English environment with a broader group of friends and the English language. Gradually all that was new and exciting, secondary and tertiary studies, choice of profession and a widening circle of friends, led outside the Slovenian community into a broader social English Australian sphere. When it came to choose a partner it was also most often a non-Slovenian.

Upon arriving in Australia, there were two conflicting attitudes prevailing within the Slovenian community. One focused on learning English and assimilating, the other on maintaining Slovenian language and culture. Many people believed, as did the Australian authorities, that assimilation into the English social and cultural environment must occur as soon as possible. Any attempt to maintain the native language could only prove harmful and would adversely affect progress at school and integration into Australian society. The other attitude was based on a strong sense of Slovenian cultural traditions, love of Slovenian language and song and a desire to bring up the children maintaining a sense of identity.

These parents had a strong commitment to Slovenian tradition and wished their children to retain their connection to it. It was this second view, that led to a lively cultural life consisting of folk dancing, choral singing, drama groups, cultural evenings, carnivals, parades, processions, international variety days, the accordion and polka musical folk tradition, and the study of Slovenian language as the main activities of the second generation growing up in the
seventies and eighties.

The Slovenian community had begun to value knowledge of Slovenian language and to perceive the need for some formal teaching, as they came to understand what the loss of language meant in terms of communication and culture. Many immigrants also began to visit Slovenia and their children perceived the
advantages of speaking Slovenian. The old Slovenian proverb, resurrecting old wisdom and practical experience was now often quoted:”več jezikov znaš,več veljaš; (the more languages you know, the more standing you have).

Initially language classes were difficult to establish. Parents needed to be persuaded that the effort of bringing their children regularly to classes was necessary. The prevailing opinion was that English was an important language spoken throughout the world, and it is not necessary to learn another language, particularly a minor language spoken by only two million people. There was also the widely held view on the part of the educational authorities that knowing and speaking another language, would interfere with the ability to speak English and so affect progress at school. This attitude was prevalent in Australia of
the fifties and sixties, and it affected the study of all languages. While schools traditionally offered German and French, as the pressure of new “more useful” subjects entered the curriculum, languages in time became non-compulsory for entry to the university, and some schools dropped them from the curriculum.
This trend was reversed in the eighties, as business people and enlightened members of the Australian government realised that to speak only English - to be a monolingual society - was not in the best interests of Australia. It was also felt that part of the wealth that migrants brought into Australia were their language skills, which should be encouraged and nurtured and used as the link to the world, rather than suppressed and lost. So it happened that knowledge of another language became a valued commodity, and was again encouraged and rewarded.

After the publication of the Blackburn Report in 1985 and subsequent educational reform, language studies were introduced at primary level and made compulsory at the secondary level - to Year 10. Students intending to enrol for university studies were encouraged to study languages by awarding ten bonus points on top of the normal score. Any language at VCE level could be used as one of the best four subjects for the entry into university and all faculties, with the exception of science and engineering studies.

The first attempt that led to a continuous teaching tradition took place in 1960 at the Slovenian Religious and Cultural Centre in Melbourne with the support and encouragement of Fr. Basil Valentin, the Franciscan priest, whose efforts for the Slovenian community became legendary.
In 1960 Jože Kapušin officially opened the first Slovenian class. The class was later taken over by Anica Srnec, a teacher of German. Štefan Srnec, her brother was untiring in his efforts to establish classes and increase attendance. He even collected children by car, when parents lived too far from the Centre to bring them in. Other teachers joined as the numbers of students increased. Draga Gelt was asked to teach in 1968, later joined by the Franciscan sisters Pavla Kaučič and Silvestra Ivko. In 1975 Lucija Srnec took over a class, and was subsequently joined by Viki Mrak, Anica Špacapan, Pavlina Pahor and Maksimiljana KaučičThe Slovenian school at Planica in 1986 with the A few years later Veronica Smrdel took over the teaching, assisted by Barbara Smrdel,
teacher Lucija Srnec, Mary Petelin, Lidija Lapuh, Maria Stathopoulos, John Golja, Anita and Mary Žele and now Iris Dietner and Lidija Bratina. The teachers also taught the children folk dances, modern dances, drama and singing and prepared children”s cultural programs and appearances. For a number of years Katerina Vrisk directed the youth choir Glasniki.
It was initially difficult to persuade parents that learning Slovenian was important when the only language needed for education, communication, employment or business was English. This was particularly the case in the early days, when every migrant struggled to gain a foothold in the new country, learn English, cope with the new social environment, save money, build a home for the family, and most importantly, ensure a bright future for the children, by providing a good education.

Slovenian community also established other classes. In 1966 Lidija Čušin began to teach a group of children, first in her home, then in the Hall of Slovenian Association Ivan Cankar in Geelong. In 1974 Lucija Srnec established Slovenian classes for pre-primary and primary school children at the Slovenian Association Planica. At the Slovenian Association Melbourne Jana and Viki Gajšek offered a Slovenian youth class for a short period in 1976. Draga Gelt then established permanent classes in 1978. At about the same time Ivanka Škof opened the school at Slovenian Association Jadran, the Slovenian Association St.Albans is planning to open a class with eight students at the beginning of 2003 with the teacher Evelyn Kojc.

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