The study of languages has long been considered to have important social, cognitive and economic benefits for individuals and the nation. In Australia, however, despite its growing strength in linguistic resources and the various Government initiatives, there has been a disturbing decline in languages study by school-aged children in Australia. For example, in the 1940s and 50s, over 40 percent of students graduated with a language (Teese & Polesol, 2003) which had declined to only 12 percent in 2012. In primary schools, aggregated cross-sectoral data from government, private and catholic systems in Sydney and Wollongong indicate that 30-40 percent of New South Wales primary schools provided a languages program (Board of Studies, 2013). Among many factors, the quality of languages teaching is regarded as “the single most important controllable variable” (Lo Bianco & Slaughter, 2009, 27) that affects learners’ decision to study a language. Yet with languages not currently being mandated in primary schools, the decision for offering a LOTE curriculum largely depends on the principal and the school context. In some schools, languages are taught because a class teacher “happens” to be bilingual, and in other schools, qualified language teachers come to the school for scheduled-in language lessons (which is often funded by parents), resulting in large variations from school to school in terms of program structures, allocated time, pedagogical approaches and expectations.
With the Australian Curriculum: Languages being implemented in Australian schools, it becomes crucial to examine effective pedagogic and assessment practice that can sustain interest in LOTE learning in the primary school context. In this chapter, we will draw on contemporary principles of pedagogic practice underpinned by a social cultural approach to explore pedagogical activities and assessment tasks that facilitate the development of language skills in young learners in the LOTE context. In doing so, we will foreground theories of language teaching and learning that are relevant to the LOTE context and demonstrate how these can be transformed into pedagogic and assessment practice by examining vignettes of language teaching episodes for both younger and older primary students.