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 Group of school children in traditional dress with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education

Supporting and researching linguistic diversity in Australia
A Level 2 Research Centre hosted by Sydney School of Education and Social Work for The University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

About us

Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education (SICLE) works in three main areas:

  • conducting research to inform policy and evidence-based approaches to teaching languages
  • providing professional-learning pathways for teachers in NSW community languages schools
  • developing curriculum materials, resources and assessment to support students learning community languages.


We provide three 60-hour professional-learning programs for teachers in NSW government-funded Community Languages Schools. Each program caters for a different level of seniority within the community-school heirachy. More than 3000 teachers have completed at least one program. Many have completed more than one, as their teaching expertise and knowledge have developed. A $70 administration fee is required from program particpants in 2021. The programs are described below.

This program helps participants become more effective classroom teachers. It introduces the basics of how children learn, as well as covering practical aspects such as lesson planning; teaching listening, speaking, reading and writing; and classroom management. Participants observe classes in primary schools and visit each other's classes. The program also provides an introduction to:

  • the mechanisms by which children learn
  • recent approaches to education
  • teaching approaches suited to students of different ages and abilities
  • how to engage students who have special needs.

The assignments are practical and involve preparing resources and classroom activities. Teachers are provided with a handbook, handouts and readings for this program and are also shown a wide range of online and video resources. Below, you can find links to a variety of resources used in this program:

Students are also shown a wide range of video resources, such as the recording below of a lesson in a Khmer school, during which children were guided through constructing a project about the achitectural and historial features of Camodia's Angkor Wat and the Sydney Opera House.

This program helps experienced teachers become curriculum mentors. It has been designed for teachers who have completed the Foundation program or who have teaching qualifications and experience in Australia. The program covers:

  • unit planning
  • assessment
  • using technology
  • advanced teaching skills.

Participants also explore language frameworks and syllabuses for their language (where these exist) and evaluate ways to improve their teaching. The main assessment task involves participants undertaking a mini-research project, which might be planning a unit of work; developing resources; revising/adapting a school program; mentoring new teachers; developing a behaviour-management program for the school; or similar activities.

Support material includes a range of video clips, including the one below of a community languages school lesson in German. Students in the class are aged between 4 and 14 years and their fluency in German ranges from nil to advanced. SICLE records real-life classes because of the rarity of suitable video resources that show whole teaching lessons. Teachers in the Advanced program watch the video of the whole lesson, read the transcript (translated in English) and then evaluate the lesson and suggest changes or improvements.

Community Languages school leaders have faced enormous challenges in developing and running their schools. This program for principals, school leaders and school management committee members to help them develop more effective schools. It has three strands:

  • people management (finding, employing and mentoring teachers)
  • financial and school management (funding, fees and paperwork)
  • educational leadership (examples include developing programs and policies).

Participants carry out an audit of their school and design ways to improve school management and curriculum. Experienced community languages school principals also mentor groups of new principals throughout this program sharing ideas and expertise.

As part of the program, we filmed six videos of advice from experienced principals. Each of the videos covers a single topic that new school administrators find challenging. These are:

  • the role of the school leader
  • finding teachers
  • helping teachers
  • value-adding to schools
  • school finances
  • promoting the school.

The first of these is available below and the others can be viewed from the SICLE YouTube playlist. The aim is to provide emerging school leaders with ideas on how to address issues in their own schools.


The institute undertakes a program of research in community languages education to support teachers, student learning, policy and program development. Initiatives include those listed below.

SICLE's Advisory Committee, guided by Professor Joe Lo Bianco has developed a Draft Languages Education Policy Discussion Paper (pdf, 395kB) for the NSW Government. 

SICLE's groundbreaking report, The Skills in Question (pdf, 763kB), involved survey data from 900 community language teachers, as well as in-depth interviews with 45. It explores the professional-learning strengths, as well as the professional-learning needs of the volunteer teachers who staff community languages schools. The key findings are that community languages teachers have high levels of qualifications (60 per cent university level, 20 per cent college level); 55 per cent have teaching qualifications and experience from overseas and 79 per cent want to become teachers in Australia. This represents a valuable and untapped resource.

A follow-up report, "Parallel lines: community languages schools and their role in growing languages and building communities" (PDF, 618.6kB) resulted from one of the few in-depth studies ever undertaken into the organisation of community languages schools. The report explores the organisation, capacity, curriculum and teaching of the 310 community languages schools in NSW. Based on the responses to an online survey; case studies of selected schools; and interviews with principals, teachers, parents and students; the report of the study concluded there had been dramatic changes in the schools over the past decades. There has been a shift from first- to second-, third- and fourth-generation Australian students; the age range of students has broadened from almost exclusively primary-aged pupils to now include early-childhood, secondary and adult students and growing numbers of non-background learners. Community languages schools ‘make’ communities and act as key cultural centres.

SICLE has produced a bibliography of research (PDF, 337KB) into community/heritage/complementary language schools covering the past two decades. The aim is to help students and academics researching this area. Papers in preparation include a study of tertiary-entry and languages, titled "Community Languages in Australia: ATARRED with the same brush".

SICLE hosts a regular research seminar series, as well as the annual Michael Clyne Memorial Lecture. Professor Michael George Clyne AM FAHA FASSA, who died aged 71 on October 29, 2010, was an Australian linguist, academic and intellectual. He was a scholar in various fields of linguistics, including sociolinguistics, pragmatics, bilingualism and multilingualism, second-language learning, contact linguistics and intercultural communication. Professor Clyne was a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; the Australian Academy of the Humanities; and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. Each year since 2011, the memorial lecture now hosted by SICLE has been given by a leading academic to honour Professor Clyne's achievements and highlight his areas of research and teaching. We also run regular research seminars, which during the COVID pandemic will be delivered online. Previous presenters have been Professor Joe Lo Bianco, Professor Mike Baynham, Associate Professor Howard Nicholas and Professor Jim Tognolini.

This exciting conference will bring together international and Australian researchers at The University of Sydney in November 2021. Keynote speakers will be: Professsor Maria Carreira, co-director of the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA; Dr Vicky MacLeroy, Head of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning at Goldsmiths, University of London; and Professor Joe Lo Bianco, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Visit the conference website for more information.

SICLE hosts a tertiary working party comprising researchers from the tertiarty-education sector across NSW and ACT. The group meets four times a year to coordinate research efforts into community languages.


Our research shows that many of the volunteer teachers in community languages  schools have taken their role in the hope that it will be a first step towards gaining entry to further study or work in Australia, and eventually paid work as a teacher. Unfortunately, this is often a false hope; only
4 per cent of teachers in NSW community languages schools have the accreditation necessary to work as teachers in NSW primary and secondary schools. There is a lack of information about pathways to accreditation. For this reason, SICLE has established a range of initiatives to support entry into teaching and other careers. These initiatives are listed below.

SICLE employs bilingual careers advisers who can provide free advice to community languages teachers. Services offered include help in planning career paths, accessing opportunities for further study and gaining credit for overseas qualifications. 

Master of Teaching upgrading programs are offered by Western Sydney University and ACU Blacktown for teachers in community languages schools who have qualifications from overseas institutions that are not recognised in Australia. These programs are available in alternative modes: on weekends, online and during school holidays. SICLE will help assess your qualifications, provide careers' advice and English-language support and, if appropriate, will organise English-language testing for you. If you have an undergraduate degree but not recognised teacher training, this program may be for you.


Our study, "Parallel Lines", found that the greatest need reported by schools is for resources that are engaging, up-to-date and pitched at appropriate levels for learners in the Australian context.

Our online free access portal,, contains more than 1000 resources (and growing). Available hard-copy and online resources from schools, other states and countries were collected and checked for quality and copyright by key teachers in the schools and then uploaded on to online portals. There are sections for Arabic, Assyrian/Chaldean, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Greek, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Persian/Dari, Punjabi, Tamil, Turkish and Vietnamese plus a section for other languages. We organise and schedule webinars in each language to familiarise teachers with the resources and teaching strategies.

Experienced day-school and community-language school teachers have developed scope, sequences and units of work to accompany, complement and align with the new NSW Education Standards Authority K–10 syllabuses in a variety of commonly used community languages. These include Hindi, Macedonian, Persian/Dari, Punjabi and Tamil. A booklet containing examples of the Study Units that have been written so far is available to download (PDF, 3.4MB). The entire set of units can be found on the resource portal

Twenty-nine key teachers in NSW primary schools trialled and developed 48 units of work in nine languages for use in Community Languages Schools. Twenty-five key teachers in the NSW government K–6 Community Languages Program are developing units of work in nine community languages: Arabic, Assyrian, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Korean, Macedonian, Tamil, Turkish. The units reflect quality teaching and rich-task outcomes aligned with new K–10 languages syllabuses. Some of these are available in a booklet form for download (3.7MB) Teachers had two days of workshops and received in-school support to trial and evaluate these units with their students. Participants in the Community Language Teaching (Advanced) Program are extending and adapting these units to another 20 languages in 2020.

We are developing a Passport for Languages to accredit student language learning. These will be based on detailed languages progressions and teacher professional learning to use these progressions for student assessment. This project is aiming to develop progressions or scales for community languages that can then be adapted into different versions for community languages. The progressions/scales will be trialled with groups of students in 2020 to gain evidence for validity and reliability. Community languages teachers will be given professional development to be able to assess student work samples. The eventual outcome will be an online Passport for Languages that will be a permanent record of the listening, speaking, reading and writing level attained by each student. This Passport will also include student self-assessment and can be carried across schools and stages of schooling to show evidence of proficiency.

SICLE conducts the Community Language Teacher Test (CLTT) on behalf of the NSW Department of Education. This testing is funded by the department and is provided exclusively for NESA-accredited K–6 teachers. Doing well in this exam is a pathway for qualified teachers to gain permanent positions. If you are interested in taking the test and have existing approval to teach with the Department of Education, you need to register by emailing the department at You can address an email separately or use the link below.

SICLE also conducts the Verification of Language Proficiency Test (VLPT) for applicants to preservice teacher-education programs and for teachers seeking evidence of their language proficiency. Complete the form below if you wish to receive more information about this test.

Supporting schools

Eighty per cent of community languages schools have free use of NSW government schools, as a result of support provided by the NSW government. SICLE has a set of videos to promote greater understanding and cooperation between mainstream public education schools and community language schools. These clips, the first of which is embedded below – and all of which are available to view from the SICLE YouTube playlist – feature interviews in which experienced Department of Education school principals discuss the benefits of hosting community languages schools, how to organise cooperation and address issues that emerge.

  • Advice for other principals considering hosting a community languages school? (3:39) [watch below]
  • How does your school benefit from hosting a community languages school? (4:42)
  • What challenges have you faced and how did you solve them? (4:10)
  • Why are you committed to the local community languages school program? (1:49)

Digital storytelling is being used in Khmer, Korean and other schools to engage students with their community language. Students are guided through the process of planning and producing videos on a range of topics. SICLE's Dr Kirsty McGeoch trains the teachers from these schools in a series of workshops learning to use a range of tools and apps in their classes. The project is based on the groundbreaking Critical Connections initiative in the UK. A video where the children and their teachers explain the process is embedded below. This video, together with the videos produced by the students can be viewed from the SICLE YouTube playlist.

Publicising the activities of community language schools to the broader Australian population can be difficult, and targeting specific language groups is a challenge if they are geographically dispersed. SICLE has collaborated with Turkish-language schools to produce four video clips that promote student and parent involvement in community languages schools. These videos will be distributed via social media, and each will be aimed at a different audience demographic:

  • younger students
  • older students
  • parents
  • the broader community.

Our people


Professor Ken Cruickshank

Emily Bai Li

Manager, Curriculum Projects

Karen Garlan

Manager, Professional Learning Programs

Merryl Wahlin

Project Manager

Tianqi Wu

Pathways Administration Manager

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