Sustainable Learning Languages Programmes


The New Zealand Curriculum framework promotes Learning Languages as an area of the curriculum that is important to the country’s health and growth.

All students benefit from learning another language from the earliest practicable age. Such learning broadens students’ general language abilities and brings their own language into sharper focus. It enriches them intellectually, socially and culturally, offers an understanding of the ways in which other people think and behave, and furthers international relations and trade. (The New Zealand Curriculum Framework, 1993: 10)

Dr Ruth Fielding from the University of Canberra in Australia released a paper in 2014, ‘Exploring Effective and Sustainable Language Programs in NSW Independent Schools,’ which explored language learning in the Australian context. It displayed a number of findings regarding sustainable learning languages programmes. She writes. “Some of the key elements from the literature on successful languages education also have an impact upon what it means to have a sustainable languages program. For example key factors which apply to both success and sustainability are the need for a school-wide vision, goals and ongoing and continuous planning (Lindholm-Leary, 2005) and the need for adequate long-term staffing (AFMLTA, 2005). In addition, in recent years within the Australian context the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has identified some elements that sustainable languages programs commonly feature (AEF, 2014a). The AEF identifies that sustainable languages programs have a clear rationale, clear purpose and clearly defined outcomes (AEF, 2014a). They also identify that a sustainable languages program has sufficient resources and clear teaching strategies that are suitable for each level of schooling (AEF, 2014a). One key factor they identify is that... sustainable languages programs move beyond being integrated and move into being “incorporated” by which they mean “language permeates the life of a school and its community, and that there is a pride and ownership of the program by that school’s community” (AEF, 2014a, resource 38). The AEF in a further document, state that “sustainable” languages programs teach language intensively throughout Years K to 12 (i.e. throughout both primary and secondary schooling and that language is viewed in such programs as central to their internationalisation aims (AEF, 2014b, Resource 41). They also state that ideally all teachers in the school would be involved in a sustainable program; that students in such programs develop local and global skills; and that intercultural understanding is seen in these schools as core learning (AEF, 2014b, resource 41).” The full report can be read here.

“As this diagram illustrates, a successful program generally involves many committed staff members and a whole school approach. Orton et al (2013) argue that it is not sufficient for there to be one champion of languages in a school. As shown in this diagram the Principal is a key player in the promotion of the program and in the expansion of a whole school approach, but in addition another high level person is needed to facilitate the successful planning of languages at an operational level in addition to the language teacher or teachers themselves. It is clear therefore that research into why programs of language study are successful or sustainable are few and that although there are system documents or professional association documents which offer guidelines, the factors have not been explored through extensive research. The common thread amongst the guidelines are the importance of a whole school approach, with language teaching reflecting what happens in the rest of the school and with a whole school commitment to the importance of language learning (AEF, 2014c).This current project takes steps forward in the field to explore four case study contexts of schools with long-running languages programs, using the previously developed frameworks as valuable background tools. It is important, during a time when languages are repeatedly held up as necessary in our nation’s schooling, to explore how schools might be doing this well and in a sustainable manner to develop some guidelines for the future of languages education.”

Published by The Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales Limited Level 12, 99 York Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia © The Association of Independent Schools of NSW, 2015

Are you a teacher or school leader and interested in improving the sustainability of your language learning programme? 

Contact us to find out more about the support we can offer you


Morgan Patterson
Pathway Manager

P: 09 623 8899 ext 48 229



Key elements of a sustainable language learning programme:

  • Clear rationale, purpose and clearly defined outcomes that are made obvious to all key stakeholders including students and parents;

  • Commitment to adequate and equitable distribution of resources for the programme;

  • Provision is made for continuity of language learning of a specific language from primary school to secondary school;

  • Teaching methods and strategies are level and age appropriate;

  • Incorporation of the language learning programme into the life of the school and the community and genuine pride and ownership of the programme by the community;

  • Language learning programme teachers are treated as real and valued members of the staff and have the same status and profile as other learning areas;

  • Teaching quality is high – the teacher is committed to the school and its programme, speaks the language confidently, is able to teach and engage the learners, is comfortable with the students and puts them at ease; 

  • Students are engaged and motivated to continue their language learning.

Simpson Norris International (2001, 39)


The ILEP professional development pathway depicts sustainability as the element which surrounds all other aspects of teacher professional development.