Languages and the Great Commission

Found in: SCEA News | Published on: 03 September 2015

“The Bible tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations”. How can we fulfill this great commission and spread the word of God without understanding other cultures and languages?” asks Mariel Howard, SCEA Languages Consultant.

“Learning languages is imperative for us as Christians. If we talk to other nations about Jesus in our language, we will be seen as foreigners, with a foreign language, representing a foreign religion with little effect.”

Mariel Howard, a K-12 Languages Consultant for both SCEA and Catholic Education Western Australia, is passionate about the role of languages in promoting cross-cultural understanding.

“The benefits of learning multiple languages are well documented. From enhanced cognitive and literacy development, to greater confidence and critical thinking skills. An equally important benefit is developing understanding and respect for other cultures, traditions and world views, at the same time giving students a greater appreciation of what makes us Australian”, Mariel said.

“We all know that children are like sponges. If we start language learning early, children have no bias towards other cultures and are therefore more open and accepting”.

Mariel also teaches Japanese at Kalamunda Christian School and was awarded Japanese Teacher of the Year by JLTAWA in 2012. As instigator of the Perth hub of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), an internationally recognized pedagogical practice, she has introduced integration into the curriculum at Kalamunda Christian School by teaching Year 6 Art classes in Japanese. Mrs Keiko Gray, the other Japanese teacher, teaches Year 6 cooking in Japanese.

“In traditional language classrooms, we practice language without real world application. In integrated language classrooms, languages are learnt in context, we actually use it rather than practise it. For example, if my art students need red paint, they need to ask for it in Japanese”, said Mariel. 

Although Kalamunda Christian School is the first of the SCEA schools implementing CLIL, many schools around Australia are now adopting this learning method. At Oberthur Primary School in Bull Creek, six and a half hours of the weekly curriculum is taught in Chinese to all students from pre-Primary to Year 6 in a deliberate attempt to make monolingual students, bilingual. At a school in Victoria, some of the curriculum is run in Karen, an ethnic Burmese language, for all the children at the school.

“Interestingly, parents value the benefits of the second language learning so much that the actual second language taught is almost irrelevant”, notes Mariel.

Mariel has presented extensively in national languages conferences in Australia and New Zealand and published in a Languages journal. She is currently studying for Master of Instructional Leadership through the University of Melbourne and learning her sixth language.  As part of the SCEA Institute of Teaching and Learning, Mariel’s remit is to support language teachers at all of the SCEA schools. She can be contacted via


The Benefits of Learning Languages

 1.    Literacy development:

Understanding of the English language and grammar rules is improved by comparing it to another language using the same grammatical terms like "verb" and "object of the sentence”. General literacy skills such as guessing new words from context and scanning for specific information, are further developed in Languages learning.

 2.    Cognitive development:

Just like music, Languages learning engages the brain in new ways and also improves your learning in other areas as well. NAPLAN results do not suffer if a school starts teaching bilingually. In fact, often results improve.

 3.    Intercultural understanding:

Understanding the viewpoints of people who come from other countries and the cultural practices that have shaped these viewpoints, also aids understanding of what make us Australian.

 4.    Ability to communicate with people all over the world:

Knowing other languages makes it easier to do business with foreigners and enhances the enjoyment of travel. Employment opportunities improve with additional languages.

5.     Personal challenge and satisfaction:

High ability students enjoy the challenge of writing in a different script. Lower ability students often also find Languages learning safisfying, as most languages have easier spelling than English.