Being the VSL “historian” 2012-2015 – Catherine Bryant


Dr Catherine Bryant at graduation

As many people know, the VSL celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2015. Some may also be aware that for the past four years, I researched the VSL history for my PhD project at Swinburne University. This was a special project that was initiated by the VSL. It was supported by a three-year scholarship called the VSL PhD scholarship in memory of Professor Michael Clyne.

Throughout this research project, the VSL gave its full support, and gave me full access to materials, documents and personnel for the purpose of this study. Indeed, the VSL community supported this research project enthusiastically.

I was thrilled to be the chosen candidate, because I knew that this project was a special opportunity. While some people might wonder why anyone would want to pursue such a project, a PhD was something I had always wanted to do. I came to this project as an experienced secondary teacher of both Japanese and history, and it enabled me to pursue research in three areas of my own expertise and interest; languages, education and history. Prior to becoming a teacher I had completed a Master of Arts by research in Japanese, so I was familiar with what was involved in research, I had written a thesis before, and I felt confident that I had the skills to do it. I resigned from my teaching position so that I could work on this project full time from 2012 until the end of 2015. I submitted my thesis for examination in December 2015.

Early on, I was struck by the enormity of the task. The VSL teaches 49 languages in 40 centres and it has an eighty-year history. My PhD thesis needed to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. That sounds like a massive document, which it is. But my research needed to have a clear focus. I wondered how on earth I should approach such a mammoth topic within the limits of a PhD?

I soon became convinced that my focus for this project should be firmly anchored in the discipline of history. I had found several old newspaper articles and government reports. But the most exciting discovery was at the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) in North Melbourne , where  I found a box of archived education department papers that document the first decades of the school’s history. Dating back to the 1930s, the papers were dog-eared and fragile, and many were written in copperplate handwriting. These kinds of primary sources represented a goldmine of original material for my project.


Among the documents, I discovered some original attendance rolls from the school’s first Saturday classes in Japanese, Italian, Dutch and Russian in the 1930s and 1940s. When I saw this, I realised that some of the early students or staff of the school may still be alive and be able to meet me for an interview.

But there was a problem. For the first fifty years of its existence, the VSL did not have a name. It was not an official school. It did not have a building or a headmaster. It was not like a “normal” school. There was no database of alumni that I could consult. So how could I track down these ex-students? I noticed that in the margins of the old attendance rolls, education department officials had written the names of the day schools that the students had come from. This represented a vital clue. Many students had come  from MacRobertson Girls High School, Melbourne High School, and University High School. I reconstructed the lists of names and approached staff at these three schools and asked them to help me contact these ex-students. This was a long process and it depended on the goodwill and generosity of people who patiently trawled through their databases for me.

Through this process, I was able to meet several VSL students from the 1930s and 1940s. Meeting them was an absolute thrill and hearing their stories brought the box of archived documents to life. It enriched the information that I had found, and I was able to include snippets of their stories in my PhD thesis. This experience highlighted the valuable opportunity that this PhD project had brought. Without this special research project, the chance to meet these interesting people and hear their fascinating stories would have been lost.

In the next few blog posts, I will write about some of the people that I met and some of the stories that I discovered from the early decades of the school’s history.

Posted in History, Uncategorized, VSL Vault | Tagged ,

Q & A with Zoe Kaufmann – teacher of Japanese


Zoe Kaufmann

Zoe Kaufmann first began formal language study when she was in Grade 5, and has been in love with the VSL and its languages since!

She fondly remembers her first few lessons at the VSL. At the age of 10, one of her friends dragged her along to the Year 7 Japanese class at the Matthew Flinders campus.

 Zoe was going to start halfway through the year, and having had no experience studying Japanese since kindergarten, she was somewhat bewildered at the thought of jumping in the deep end of a high school class. Luckily, her mother (a karate-ka) and her brother (who had previously studied the language) were keen to join her at the VSL and gave her much-needed study partners through the initial stages of learning hiragana and katakana.

She remembers her first teacher fondly, particularly the fun games she would play with her students. Her teacher went to endless lengths to assist her as she caught up to her classmates who had started half a year before her. Her classmates were often a little bit noisy but she loved the vibrant atmosphere in the classroom and the palpable passion every single classmate had for the language. Zoe adored every new piece of grammar that she came across and took (almost) every new piece of vocabulary to heart. She never missed an opportunity to partake in a cultural event and outside of class she watched hours and hours of Japanese cartoons (all in the name of study, of course).

Zoe studied for four years before leaving to continue her Japanese study in her day school. During this time she visited Japan twice, first for a three month student exchange and later for a four week study trip.

Two years later, however, she was back, not to study Japanese, but to instead begin her journey learning Mandarin Chinese. She studied Chinese for two years, loving the exposure to the country’s rich culture and history. She delighted in learning Mandarin’s five tones and the many Chinese characters she came across, which also helped her immensely with her study of Japanese kanji. Zoe went on to study in the VSL’s Matthew Flinders VCE class for a year, after which she took Chinese as a major at Deakin University. Zoe has plans to travel to China sometime in the next few years to deepen her knowledge.

Zoe returned to the VSL’s Year 7-10 Japanese class the following year to act as a language assistant. Welcomed back with open arms, she felt incredibly privileged to work with her supervising teacher who had a wealth of knowledge and teaching ideas. Zoe’s passion for the Japanese language burned brighter than ever and she felt at home sharing her knowledge about the language and country she loved.



Origami in the classroom

Following her supervising teacher’s retirement at the start of 2015, Zoe took over the reins of the class and has never enjoyed teaching more! She loves spending time coming up with novel lesson ideas and cultural experiences that spark passion in her own students, much like her first teacher inspired her at the beginning of her own journey all those years ago. She says:

 “My favourite Japanese cuisine is definitely okonomiyaki – savoury vegetable pancakes made with cabbage. I have fond memories of sitting around my host family’s table and drawing words in sauce on our pancakes with my host sisters!

 My favourite TV show in Japanese is Detective Conan, a crime/mystery show that has been airing on Japanese TV for 20 years. I love trying to solve the mysteries before the next episode comes out (sometimes I even guess correctly!).

 My favourite app is JED – an Android Japanese-English dictionary. Boring, yes, but a good dictionary is a language-learner’s best friend! My other favourite tool is Google, of course. I don’t know how anyone managed to learn a language before the internet!”


Posted in bilingualism, Chinese, Japanese, teachers, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Launch of Virtual English as an Additional Language (EAL) New Arrivals Program

On Thursday 15 June 2016, Dr David Howes, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Schools, Department of Education and Training launched the Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program, an initiative of the Department of Education and Training and the Victorian School of Languages.


Dr David Howes

Victoria welcomes thousands of new settlers every year and the Department of Education and Training has the responsibility of providing intensive English language instruction, mainly through the English Language Schools and Centres and EAL specialists that are generally based in the metropolitan area and regional centres.

However, there is an ever-increasing number of EAL students in geographically remote areas of Victoria where specialised EAL services are not available. The Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program has been set up to meet these growing needs, through the use of interactive technologies.

The launch began with an actual lesson via video conferencing and interactive software. The assembled guests were able to observe new arrival students from eight regional locations participate in a virtual lesson on parts of the human body. The students interacted with their teachers, accessed relevant visuals, answered verbal questions and sang a song.

bScreen shot

Regional schools link via video conferencing


Students complete questions online

Dr Howes explained that in 2014 discussions began with Victorian School of Languages about how the Department could realise an online program using virtual technologies and EAL expertise, and these discussions resulted in a pilot, the first of its kind in Australia.

The pilot was evaluated by the Language Testing Research Centre at the University of Melbourne and the findings indicated that the Program had a number of positive impacts and these included improved student achievement against the EAL standards, development of student confidence and willingness to communicate.

Early in 2016, the Deputy Premier, Minister for Education, the Honourable James Merlino, approved the formal establishment of the Virtual EAL New Arrivals Program

dIMG_1355Currently, there are 27 students from 17 schools receiving intensive English language support in a virtual environment. Students who have participated in the Program have been located in places such as Murrayville and Ouyen, in the far north-west of the State, Bundarra in the far south-west and as far north as Mitta Mitta and Wodonga.


“Head and Shoulders, Knees and Feet…”

Dr Howes said: “What we witnessed here today and what we are here to celebrate…is a culmination of so many people working together over a number of years…The challenges of distance and lack of availability of specialist English language teachers, that were once a barrier to support, have now been overcome through the specialised and expert use of virtual and other technologies, so that no matter where an isolated newly-arrived student lives in Victoria, they will be able to access EAL provision… Special thank you also to the Principal and staff of the Victorian School of Languages for designing, trialling, implementing and managing the program.”

fIMG_1364Schools wishing to find out more about the program can contact the Victorian School of Languages on 9474 0500.

Posted in bilingualism, EAL, growing up bilingual, Migration, Regional and Rural programs, Uncategorized, VSL Vault | Tagged , ,

Italian Study Tour 2015-2016


Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast


On Saturday, 26th December 2016, 14 students studying Italian at the Victorian School of Languages (both Distance Education and Centre students) and their VSL Italian teachers, left Australia for a three week study tour to Salerno, Italy.

This is the first time that such a tour has been organized by the Victorian School of Languages.



One of the classes at the Accademia

Students attended Italian classes at the ‘Accademia Italiana’ in the mornings and were divided into two groups (beginner and intermediate). The Accademia teachers were highly professional and specialized in teaching Italian as a second language.  After lunch, students attended site seeing trips or seminars, all arranged by the Accademia.



Practising Italian at the Accademia


Paestum, Province of Campania


Some of these excursions included Amalfi, Paestum, Pompeii, Naples, and a weekend in Rome.







Our students ranged from Years 9 to 11 and they all feel that their Italian speaking, writing and listening skills, as well as their understanding of the cultural and historic aspects of this important region in Italy has greatly improved after the three weeks.




Being billeted to host families for the three weeks also helped to improve their speaking and comprehension skills as none of the host families could speak English.



Lights of Salerno



Salerno is a pretty and very safe medium sized town of about 150,000 people near the Amalfi Coast, about 50 km south of Naples in Southern Italy, an ideal town for such a tour, due its mild winters and location.



Piazza Del Plebiscito, Naples



Inside the Colosseum


Because this study tour was so successful and both student and parent feedback was very positive, we hope to be able to offer a similar tour in the future.



 The VSL would like to sincerely thank our sponsor ‘DIVELLA’, the major brand distributed by BONFOOD, for contributing generously towards the study tour. DIVELLA covered the costs of our weekend in Rome and provided each student with a study tour windcheater.



For more information about DIVELLA products and the BONFOOD company, click on the following link:                                                                      



Posted in Italian | Tagged

VSL Study Tour to Germany/Austria

VSL Study Tour to Germany/Austria

Eleven VSL students of German and two VSL Teachers left on a three week study tour to Germany over the summer break. This was the first time that the German Faculty of the VSL Distance Education had organised an overseas trip.


Dresden Christmas Market

The aims were for the students to use German in a variety of real life contexts and to improve communication skills in German as well as to reinforce motivation for continuing to study the language and to enjoy a group learning experience as most students were Distance Education students, which usually don’t have the opportunity to take part in a school exchange.



With Principal Wagner, Adalbert-Stifter-Gemeinschaftsschule

The schools we visited were Adalbert-Stifter-Gemeinschaftsschule (Ulm), Vitzthum-Gymnasium (Dresden) and Hans-Carossa-Gymnasium (Berlin-Spandau).

The first part was spent in southern Germany and Austria, exploring the cities of Munich, Salzburg, Neuschwanstein Castle, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Ulm and Nuremberg.


With host school students, Berlin Alexanderplatz

A tour highlight was being on top of Germany, the Zugspitze mountain (2962m), the highest mountain in Germany.  At the top, an impressive 360° panorama opened up and we had an amazing view over 400 mountain peaks in four countries.

There was also the opportunity to enjoy some snow play and tobogganing, which put a smile onto everyone’s face.


Brandenburg Gate


On top of Zugspitze Mountain

There was also the opportunity to enjoy some snow play and tobogganing, which put a smile onto everyone’s face.

Christmas markets played an integral part of the tour! In every city we were able to enjoy this German tradition.  We sampled lots of culinary delights including a variety of local sausages and gingerbreads for instance at the famous Christkindl market in Nuremberg and the Striezelmarket in Dresden. Students also had the opportunity to look at and buy handcrafted Christmas gifts and soak up the unique atmosphere.


Neuschwanstein Castle


Visiting German schools in Ulm, Dresden and Berlin was an important part of the Study Tour, which provided them with the opportunity to build new friendships. Our students also shared photo presentations, music and a footy workshop with the German host schools.

The final week was spent in Berlin-Spandau, where the students stayed with selected host families and took part in family and school life.


J Bells

Getting ready to to sing Aussie Jingle Bells


Presentation on Australia by student Jacob Hill

As part of the tour students were able to visit many places of historic and cultural significance. These included the concentration camps in Dachau and Ulm, the Dresdner Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) and the famous at art collection at the Green Vault in Dresden, the Berlin War Memorial and the Stasi Museum, to name just a few.

The Study Tour proved to be a great success and we are looking forward to our next adventure in the near future. Look out for information regarding future trips.

Posted in events, German, Uncategorized, VSL Vault | Tagged

Lost in Bilingual Parenting

“Parents are often torn between speaking their first language because it is supposed to enhance the emotional connection with their children and speaking the second language because it is supposed to be the language of the new country.”

In this article, originally published on the multilingualism research website,  Language on the Move,  Shiva Motaghi Tabari explores the choices parents make.

Continue reading

Posted in bilingualism, growing up bilingual, parents, persian | Tagged ,

Q & A with Federica Cologni, teacher of Italian

Meet the teacher: Federica Cologni, Teacher of Italian, Matthew Flinders Centre in Geelong


Picture: under a portico in Bologna, Emilia Romagna, Italy

I’ve been at the VSL for eight years as an Italian teacher; before that I’d been a VSL student (Italian and Spanish) for three years and a language assistant (Italian) for one.

Lately I’ve been working on different ways to include ICT in my teaching as I think digital literacy is a necessary 21st century skill.

The most important thing I take into the classroom each week is energy. It can be hard for students to come to school on a Saturday morning so it’s important that I keep them motivated and enthusiastic. The group I am currently teaching ranges from years 7 to 12 and also includes adults. Ensuring that every single student is catered for requires a lot of energy and good time-management (on my part but also theirs).

What I love about language teaching is that it’s never the same. Each student is unique and has his/her own understanding of the world, so teaching is never boring nor repetitive. My second favourite thing is hearing from past students… a few of them have permanently relocated to Europe while others are on a gap year. Hearing about their adventures is always exciting and is a constant reminder that the world is a big place full of opportunities for today’s youth. Knowing an extra language can give you the edge.


Exploring Ostia Antica’s borgo and castle, in the outskirts of Rome

My advice to parents is for them to encourage their kids to keep up their interest in language learning; even casually asking them about what they’re currently working on in class can do wonders for their motivation and enthusiasm. If you have the time, get your kids to teach you a couple of words in the language from time to time.

The book that changed my life… I don’t think I could choose just one book. I was an avid reader when I was at school as I found reading the best way to improve my English (I came to Australia at age 14). Orwell’s 1984, which I read at age 15, was probably the reason why I decided to study politics and international relations at university so I guess I could say that was quite significant. When I was younger and living in Italy my favourite book was called Il Grande Libro dei Perché (the Big Book of Whys). It taught me to question everything in life, be curious and always dig deeper.


Visiting one of my primary school teachers in Bergamo, Italy

The most inspirational figures in my life are my past teachers. They taught me to appreciate learning as a life-long journey and it is because I admired them so much that I eventually chose this profession. Of course not all of my teachers were great (I had some really bad ones too), but there were quite a few who made the difference with their patience, passion and dedication. Thankfully I am still in touch with them today.


Casoncelli alla bergamasca (in dialect: casonsèi)

The regional food I love best is casoncelli alla bergamasca. A casoncello is a ravioli-like dumpling stuffed with Grana Padano cheese, amaretti biscuits and a couple of other ingredients. Casoncelli are pan-fried with pancetta, butter and sage. They are a typical dish from my hometown Bergamo (40 Km NE of Milan) and are normally reserved for special occasions. My grandmother (nonna Lucia) makes them from scratch. However I also love Thai food: Som Tum Thai (green papaya salad with shrimp and peanuts) and Tom Yum (spicy and sour soup with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers) are favourites of mine.


Past students featured on Il Globo, Melbourne’s Italian newspaper

My favourite expression in Italian is chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro; ‘who finds a friend, finds a treasure’ or a ‘friend is a treasure’.

What I love to do most when I am in Italy is spending time with family and friends.

My favourite apps are Duolingo, Facebook, Viber and Whatsapp; I use Duolingo to maintain the Spanish and French I studied at university, while I use the other three apps to keep in touch with my friends who live all over the world.







Posted in Italian, Migration, teachers, Uncategorized | Tagged ,