Trading a day of regular lessons for a trip to the cinema is a sure-fire way to win over a class. But for this group of Indonesian language students in Melbourne, the experience is about more than whiling away an afternoon in a darkened room.
As he and the other students walk towards the train station, 15-year-old Camberwell Grammar School student Declan Woolf seems pleased to be outside the school grounds.
“I’m pretty excited honestly. We get a day off school,” he says. “I’m pretty hyped.”
Although he frames it as a day off school, the Year 9 and 10 Indonesian language students are today attending a screening of the Indonesian film Salawaku as part of the MIFF Schools program at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which is supported by the Modern Language Teachers’ Association of Victoria (MLTAV).
As MIFF Schools Programmer Thomas Caldwell explains it, the festival is hopeful about what the students will take away from the experience.
“These are sophisticated, engaging films,” he says. “And I think very quickly [the students] get used to reading the subtitles and following the different languages.
“It’s nice getting a sense that they’ve had this experience and it’s been positive, and hopefully they will continue to seek out foreign language films.”
All of the films in the MIFF Schools program this year are in languages commonly taught in Australia: Greek, German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin and Indonesian.
“For language teachers, it [is] invaluable to be able to take their students to see a contemporary film in the language that they’re studying,” Mr Caldwell says.
Gaining international insight
Declan and his classmate Liam Brady, also 15, have been studying Indonesian since Year 7. Although neither of them have decided whether they will continue studying the language until Year 12, both chose the language to learn more about one of Australia’s nearest neighbours.
“It’s interesting to … [gain] insight into their way of life and a bit more history about them,” Liam says.
“There’s a lot of different opportunities [that] can involve the use of the language.
“If you wanted to join the army, or certain other jobs that involve interactions with other countries, you need to be able to speak a second language.”
For Declan, an aspiring architect, he thinks he might one day find work in the developing nation.
“Indonesia … still needs a lot of development, so if I had Indonesian, I could be employed by an Indonesian company and that would be very helpful because there aren’t a lot of architecture jobs in Australia at the moment.”
Thomas Caldwell, who studied German at school but didn’t excel, hopes the MIFF Schools program will foster students’ enthusiasm for mastering a second language.
“It’s kind of embarrassing and arrogant … that a lot of us in Australia can’t [speak a second language].
“I wish I could go back in time and tell myself as a student, ‘Don’t be so arrogant and closed minded — for heaven’s sake, learn this stuff’.”
Encouraging interest in Indonesia
Camberwell Grammar School’s Head of Indonesian Janet Sharman has been teaching Indonesian since the 1990s. She says at that time Indonesian was the most widely-taught Asian language.
“At one stage I was working in three jobs — teaching at a school, teaching at a Saturday school and teaching adults,” she says. “In the 90s there was huge growth.
“But of course now there are more Asian languages to choose from and the demographics of Australia have changed … and other languages have come to the forefront, which I think is a good thing in itself, even though it does give Indonesian [some competition].”
Ms Sharman organises annual trips to both the MIFF and the Indonesian Film Festival.
“I think film is very important, because it gives another dimension to the classroom teaching. It takes them out of the classroom environment, into the real world.”
Fellow Indonesian teacher Hamish Green echoes that sentiment.
“There’s more to speaking a language than sitting down and listening to the teacher,” Mr Green says.
“Taking kids to something like this enables them to see other students who are studying Indonesian … they get to watch a film about a contemporary topic and it helps to broaden their horizons.”
Mr Green began studying Indonesian in the 1970s, and still recalls his first experience of making himself understood in the language during his time studying in Salatiga, Central Java.
“I do remember having a feeling of elation when I knew that I’d made my point and it was in a foreign language and there was no recourse to English — it felt really good. Quite empowering.”
As for the film itself — a coming of age story about a young boy looking for his missing sister on Indonesia’s Maluku Islands — Declan and Liam seem glad to have seen it, but were underwhelmed.
“It made a lot of sense, the movie,” Declan says. “I reckon it was well thought out. [But] not my type of movie.”
“I thought it was an interesting film,” Liam adds. “But I’m more of an action man. It was reasonably easy to understand — they weren’t speaking too fast and the subtitles were helpful as well.”
The pair seem more interested in the Indonesian restaurant the class are now en route to.
“Gotta love the food,” Declan says.
And what is he going to order?
“Nasi goreng, for sure. It’s like fried rice, but better.
“It just tastes good. I don’t know what’s in it.”
Click here to read the full article online. Published on the ABC website by Kim Jirik on 16 August 2017.