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Tamils - a Nation without a State
Teaching Tamil Language in the Tamil Diaspora: Australian experience
Kulum Shanmugam, University of Wolongong
May 31 - June 2, 2007
Tamil communities, formed as a result of increased migration in western countries. face particular issues and challenges in terms of intergenerational language shift away from Tamil. There is a body of research evidence identifying the factors in diasporic languages such as Tamil that lead to language maintenance or attrition in the second and further generations. The role of language teaching in mainstream schools or ethnic/ community language schools has also been receiving increasing attention. There is now substantial evidence supporting the social, cognitive and cultural benefits of bilingual education.
Little is known, however, in terms of Tamil. There is anecdotal evidence of rapid language loss, especially of the written language. Although Tamil Schools have been established in Australia and other countries, it seems that only a small percentage of children are attending these schools. Of the estimated 50,000 Tamil population in Australia, for example, only 1000 students are studying in the Tamil language schools operating under the Federation of Tamil Schools. There is also little research into the goals or effectiveness of these schools.
The present study examines what constitutes effecting teaching of Tamil as a diasporic language. What are appropriate goals of such programs? How can programs be made more effective? The study will also investigate Heritage Language teaching approaches being adopted in the US and elsewhere. These frame the community language teaching as needing a specific approach and not as mother tongue/ native speaker education or as traditional foreign language education.
The study will focus on the teaching and learning of Tamil in community schools in Australia. The methodology will be mainly qualitative relying on questionnaires, observations interviews and focus groups. The paper will report on the first stage of this study. It is hoped that the findings will inform the development of more effective curriculum and teaching of Tamil in Australia, the US and other countries where Tamil is used as a diasporic language