Australia would greatly benefit if children from non-English speaking backgrounds were able to continue learning their first language at school according to Griffith University linguistic experts.

Drs Andrea Schalley and Susana Eisenchlas from the School of Languages and Linguistics, said while more than 300 languages were spoken in Australia, English was still seen as the most important, when testing literacy levels.

“Literacy skills are transferable and there is a high correlation between native language and second-language literacy ability even with languages of dissimilar writing,” Dr Eisenchlas said.

The academics, who recently delivered a paper on the topic to the UN in New York, do not believe that immersing students in English only, to the exclusion of their minority languages is the best path to achieving English literacy.

“This might be based on a false belief that early entry into English language education will make it easier for minority language students to be integrated in the majority culture.

“But there is plenty of evidence that literacy acquisition in the home language enhances, rather than detracts from, literacy acquisition in the majority language.

Dr Schalley said it was ironic that many students who spoke minority languages at home and eventually lost their native languages to English, yet were encouraged to learn a second language when to enter university.

“We already have children speaking minority languages at home. This should be encouraged throughout the entirety of their education.”

The researchers argue a free education platform that allows tailored acquisition of literacy in diverse languages could be implemented in schools.

“We have just completed a pilot study that investigates whether children can self-direct their literacy development in their minority language by playing online games in that language,’’ Dr Schalley said.

“We want to build on these efforts. Our approach would offer early literacy instruction in the child’s minority language before or simultaneous to English literacy in school.”

“Research shows the immense benefits of family and community involvement in children’s literacy learning and outcomes for large numbers of children.”