Slovenian Language in Australian School System

The achievements

ISSV archives mark  thirty years of educational work in the state school system of Victoria. It is record of the dedication and achievements of teachers as well as a memorial to students who participated, and to Slovenian parents who supported the school and encouraged their children to take pride in Slovenian heritage.

It was important to have a permanent record of our achievements in the field of language education, not only for us who were the movers, but also for the Slovenian community as a whole. It is a part of Slovenian migrant history in Australia - and the achievements have now been formally recorded. I included in the historical review, a short history of Victorian School of Languages and essential aspects of the educational system, that provided the framework for our curriculum and teaching method. I see the 30 year landmark not just as an end of an era but also as a springboard for the future.

With the thirty years we have reached the end of an era. The introduction of Saturday School classes in 1977 represents a peak in enrolments. Nearly 500 students have enrolled in Slovenian classes and a substantial number completed a full six year course of Slovenian at secondary level. 82 students completed the VCE. Slovenian was taught in as many as six Centres of the Victorian School of Languages at one time.

My journey began in 1976 when Fr. Stanko Zemljak approached me with the question: Can anything be done about “slovenska matura”?
As an experienced teacher in the secondary school system, I was the logical person to initiate the first steps in the process. Looking back, it has been a very long time. Indeed, it has been a life”s work.

It was very satisfying to try and make Slovenian - a small language, that nobody knew anything about - well-known and respected. I did not set out to do that in the beginning. I just felt that anything I did for Slovenian language had to be of the highest standard. In the process I found that I was using my professional skills, and extending them in a way that was highly fulfilling and gave me personal and professional satisfaction. It could be said that I gained from developing Slovenian courses more than I gave. In fact I gained more that I could have done by concentrating my work in a different direction.

Some of the major achievements of this period are: -Slovenian was for the first time in the English world, an accredited Higher School Certificate (HSC) subject, used for university entrance -Slovenian courses were in the forefront of major curriculum changes and often served as models for other languages -Slovenian website, is a premier website for the study of Slovenian language and culture.

From the beginning, the work I did for Slovenian language as a teaching subject in the school system, was a labour of love. It led me to a rediscovery of the language in its grammatical complexities and more importantly, towards exploration and a new appreciation of Slovenian poetry. It was a revelation that led me to prepare and publish the historical anthology Slovenian Literary Reader in 1984. It took time, distance and knowledge of other languages, to reassess, to recognize and value Slovenian. It was satisfying to realize that in comparison with other world literatures, Slovenian held its own.

I have lived in Australia more than 50 years, I have grown here as a person and as a professional and have felt Australian. The work that I undertook made me rediscover my Sloveneness, and it brought things into perspective. I am now able to take part in two heritages and have broadened my horizons beyond the defined area of a single culture. It is an enormously enriching experience. This is the experience that I would like our younger generations to have: to be both Australian and Slovenian, and to know what this means. To have two homes, speak two languages, share in two cultures and their traditions, to see a small “insignificant” country as capable of great achievements, and learn that smallness has nothing to do with greatness. I would like to say to them: you already have Australia, which is your home. You need to explore the other home, the country of your ancestors. Only by knowing that country and its language, you will really know who you are. Those who know Slovenian language will find this journey of exploration easier. Slovenian language will enable them to dip into the deep well of the spiritual heritage of a living breathing culture. I hope that in the twenty-five years of teaching we have helped our young people to know something of Slovenian language and culture. All we have done is open the door. You must take the rest of the way yourself. I hope you do.

Slovenian language today and the future

Slovenian classes today
We have arrived at the end of an era. The commitment to Slovenian language that marked the first generation of Slovenian immigrants had reached its peak and passed. The number of students in regular secondary language courses is diminishing. Parents and students of the second generation are no longer interested in investing time and effort into six years of regular study.

Since 2002 there has been only one Slovenian class in the Victorian School of Languages (VSL). Attending are a few students who are active in Slovenian cultural activities, some students whose parents are more recent settlers, and adults who wish to learn some Slovenian so that they can communicate when visiting Slovenia.

Attending a school on Saturdays presents a problem. Adults and older students may work on Saturday. Many are active in sport, music or ballet and have to make a choice between their other interests and language learning. In addition, parents of the post-migrant generation are not as committed to Slovenian language as their parents.

Despite diminished number of students, the VSL classes will continue as long as there are students who want to learn Slovenian and we have teachers who are willing to devote their time. In 2003 there will be three VCE students, and we expect three in the following years.

Slovenian associations and centres offer classes at pre-primary and primary level whenever there is demand. The numbers of attending students vary from year to year, sometimes increasing, sometimes dropping out completely, so there is no guarantee of continuity. There is a conversation class offered by Draga Gelt every second Sunday at the Baraga House. It has been running now for several years. In 2003 Slovenian Association St.Albans is starting a school for the first time, with a group of eight children.

The future of Slovenian language
There has been an upsurge of interest for Slovenian language study amongst the second and third generation Slovenians in Australia. Many visit Slovenia and for the first time discover the real Slovenia of today - a modern European country and culture with a remarkable history.
The Institute of Slovenian Studies of Victoria has been developing a vision for the future during the last five years. Its activities activities have focused into the three main areas:
-teaching and course development of Slovenian language and culture
-developing projects on the Internet.
-organising cultural programmes

Teaching and course development
The smaller numbers don”t mean less work. As there are almost as many levels of language competence as there are students, the lessons have to be prepared accordingly. In addition all the curriculum work still needs to be done. There has been a new VCE Study Design for Slovenian published in 2001. Aleksandra and Sandi Ceferin have both worked on it together. In 2002 Victorian School of Languages commissioned ISSV to develop the comprehensive multilevel CSF Course Outlines 1 - 10 and VCE 1 - 12, incorporating the 2001 curriculum reforms.
Notwithstanding diminished secondary student enrolments, there is considerable demand for the study of Slovenian. Potential learners want to know more about
Slovenia, but above all they want to learn enough Slovenian, building on what they may already know, to be able to communicate with relatives.
They attend classes, travel overseas and they come back to school, wanting to learn more. Some find it difficult to persist, due to demands of their busy family and professional life.
Short intensive courses extending their speaking ability would be more appropriate. Slovenia does offer courses of various lengths, which are well attended. However, not everyone has time or can afford to remain one month in Slovenia spent in studies. There is a strong case for such courses on location.
There is considerable demand for an effective self-study course book for beginners, which may serve as a basis for further learning or formal study. At the moment there is nothing available that would help an intelligent independent learner. We have been considering the idea of adapting the online course that we developed, into a self-study course book for beginners. It would be a course that would enable the learner to acquire enough Slovenian for basic communication and lay a foundation for further studies.
 At the end of 2002 we have initiated an important project, a student exchange program for secondary students. We have established contact with two Slovenian Secondary Colleges the Diocesan Classical Gymnasium in Ljubljana and the Diocesan Gymnasium in Vipava and and are sending four students of Slovenian at the VSL to attend classes for two months. The students will receive some funding from the Office for Slovenes Abroad and the Ministry for Education, Science and Sport RS Slovenia. We hope that in this way, students will improve their language skills and even more importantly create personal links with their peer group.
We have high hopes of this project because we believe that only by going to Slovenia and participating in a learning environment, will our young people achieve the kind of fluency in the language that is essential if they are to benefit from such knowledge.
Slovenia has offered Slovenian teachers seminars for a number of years. Many teachers have availed themselves of this offer. The 3 week seminar is highly appreciated by the teachers who gain valuable insights and knowledge through a series of lectures, excursions and assignments.

Internet into the classroom
With the website ISSV team has created a cyberspace station or to speak in more familiar terms, a web library of Slovenian language and cultural archives, consisting primarily of Slovenian language resources, Sloveniana webzine, Galeria Sloveniana, an extensive collection of Links to Slovenian web, Web classroom, Careerlinx and the interactive section with Thezaurus Forums.
Thezaurus serves three main functions: -to provide information and further contacts for study purposes - through Slovenian language resources and links -to present Slovenia worldwide - through Sloveniana webzine, Galeria Sloveniana and Webclassroom -to foster communication and exchange of opinions and information - through Thezaurus Forums Our vision is to further extend the website to include an Online course for secondary school students and adults, encompassing various levels of language competence, educational background and interest. It would be suitable for those who cannot attend classes, or attend university courses in Slovenia, or stay there for a longer period necessary for language acquisition. The Online medium enables the broadest form of access to language learning. The Online course was designed for independent learning, a self-paced, systematic program, with in-built self-assessement and an audio component. The course is flexible and incorporates all the best practices of progressive language study methodology. A tutor referral programme can also be incorporated. Currently we completed an outline and several units of the course.

In the hope of financial backing, I presented the Online course to the authorities in October 2001. I was informed that a Slovenian Online course was already being developed by the Faculty of Arts, Centre for Slovenian as a Second/Foreign Language at the University of Ljubljana. As there are constant enquiries and an obvious demand for an effective self-study course, it is to be hoped that it will not be too long in coming.

The Internet has broadened the scope of classroom teaching and opened new possibilities of acquiring knowledge and learning the language. From the beginning we wanted to explore its possibilities. Students were made familiar with the contents and uses of Thezaurus website and given assignments to explore Slovenian websites, guided by their own personal interests. The teacher Sandi Ceferin was also able to select particular topics she wanted to explore with the students at higher levels and make use of selected websites. For example websites dealing with health were rich in resource materials on such issues as food (traditional, vegetarian, healthy, etc) and fitness. The great gain was particularly in the vocabulary of Slovenian contemporary terms, which cannot be found in any dictionary. From such exploration of Slovenian websites and its resources Sandi developed her concept of the Webclassroom. There are now 18 units of topical studies, based on material on the Web, ranging from topics like shopping and health to outstanding personalities of Slovenia, such as the poet France Prešeren and the architect Jože Plečnik.

The Thezaurus Forums, published in October 2002, are also playing a major role in classroom teaching strategies. Students are encouraged to publish short reports on their cultural and educational activities and become active participants on the Forums.

Links with Slovenia
To maintain Slovenian language for the post-migrant generations links of various kinds need to be established. For the social and entertainment scene there have always been choirs, bands and popular ensembles, which make frequent appearances. These are particularly appropriate for the migrant generation and a boost for their social gatherings and festivals. The time has now arrived for another kind of cultural exchange, aimed at the post-migrant generation, as well as a broader Australian public.

The Australian Reading Tour of Five Slovenian Authors in August 2001 was such an event. Literature does not generally attract a great audience, but the four Melbourne programs, organized by ISSV for the Australian public and Slovenian community, were highly successful public events. They aroused a great deal of interest for little known Slovenian literature. Among other things the tour led to the inclusion of Andrej Blatnik”s short stories into the General and Comparative Literature Course at Monash University.

There are other cultural exchanges that could be arranged. We would like to see more award winning Slovenian films and quality documentaries that Slovenia produces with English sub-titles. Slovenia sub-titles all its foreign films. To equip Slovenian films, serials, documentaries, with sub-titles would not appear to be a major obstacle or involve great cost. We have heard that the Slovenian program on Channel 31 is one of the most popular, because it is spoken in English and so accesible to English speakers. The same argument may be used for sub-titles. When in Slovenia I have seen many programs prepared for local consumption, that would be of great interest to our post-migrant generation and a broader public.

We would also like to see a good popular play, preferably a comedy. We hear of Slovenian plays winning awards and achieving great acclaim in other European countries. It would be possible to perform a play in Australia in English and Slovenian.

Sending our students to a school in Slovenia is perhaps the most important attempt to establish links, to form personal contacts and to acquire fluency in speaking Slovenian. Our younger generations need to get in touch with contemporary Slovenia, they need to find a common ground with Slovenes of a similar age group and interests.

Recently Slovenian government expressed interest in reestablishing a Slovenian lectureship at a university in Australia. I contacted Monash University. The relevant department is not averse to the idea, and is ready to begin negotiations with the appropriate Slovenian authorities. A great deal seems to depend on the extent of financial backing on the part of Slovenian government.
Slovenia and the “lost generation”
Our concern is for the “lost generation”, children of migrants, that no longer relate to their parents” migrant culture and its social and cultural expressions, and have become submerged in the dominant English culture. It is essential to offer them something that will refl ect their own Australian Slovenian identity. We are hoping that the 25th Anniversary of teaching Slovenian will be an occasion to bring them together and lead to other similar occasions.
We see Thezaurus as a key tool for maintaining Slovenian language and culture in the future, I should rather say that through Thezaurus they may again find something of interest, something worth exploring in their origins. Thezaurus may represent the gate through which they take the first step towards exploration of their own identity.

To develop and maintain Thezaurus we need substantial resourcing and moral support by the government of Slovenia. However, we wish that projects be evaluated according to their effectiveness and appropriately funded. We still have the feeling that the importance of the Internet as a vehicle of global communication has not been fully taken into account or valued, and so my own and my team's work may grind to a halt.

At present the young people born outside Slovenia come to see relatives, who take them around, the country, and very much depends on what they fi nd interesting. There is a need for an institution where the visitors, who are serious about seeing Slovenia, could call and would be given some advice on where to go and what to see. A mentor or a guide might be available to take them to interesting places.

Slovenia currently runs a number of programs, which include both language and cultural activities. While valuable, these involve a signifi cant time commitment by participants. To access a broader group they could consider developing a number of purely cultural programs, with supporting notes - either guided or independently undertaken. This would provide further support for Slovenes who are interested in learning more about their identity and heritage.
We have many options to explore if we remain committed to moving forward, taking our language and heritage into the future with and for our children.
Aleksandra Ceferin 

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