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Learning area

General capabilities

In the Australian Curriculum, general capabilities encompass knowledge, skills, behaviours, and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area and the cross-curriculum priorities, will enable students to live and work successfully in the 21st century.

There are seven general capabilities:

  • literacy
  • numeracy
  • information and communication technology (ICT) capability
  • critical and creative thinking
  • personal and social capability
  • ethical understanding
  • intercultural understanding.

In the Australian Curriculum: Languages, general capabilities are identified wherever they are developed or applied in content descriptions.

They are also identified where they offer opportunities to add depth and richness to student learning through content elaborations. Icons indicate where general capabilities have been identified in languages content. Teachers may find further opportunities to incorporate explicit teaching of the capabilities, depending on their choice of activities.

Detailed descriptions and elaborations of each of the general capabilities and the way these capabilities may be developed, including learning continua, can be found in the Australian Curriculum website:


Learning languages develops overall literacy. It is in this sense ‘value added’, strengthening literacy-related capabilities that are transferable across languages, both the language being learnt and all other languages that are part of the learner’s repertoire. Languages learning also strengthens literacy-related capabilities across domains of use, such as the academic domain and the domains of home language use, and across learning areas.

Literacy development involves conscious attention and focused learning. It involves skills and knowledge that need guidance, time and support to develop. These skills include the:

  • ability to decode and encode from sound to written systems
  • the learning of grammatical, orthographic and textual conventions
  • development of semantic, pragmatic and interpretative, critical and reflective literacy skills.

Literacy development for second language learners is cognitively demanding. It involves these same elements but often without the powerful support of a surrounding oral culture and context. The strangeness of the additional language requires scaffolding. In the language classroom, analysis is prioritised alongside experience. Explicit, explanatory and exploratory talk around language and literacy is a core element. Learners are supported to develop their own meta–awareness, to be able to think and talk about how the language works and about how they learn to use it. Similarly, for first language learners, literacy development that extends to additional domains and contexts of use requires comparative analysis that extends literacy development in their first language and English.


Learning languages affords opportunities for learners to use the target language to develop skills in numeracy, to understand, analyse, categorise, critically respond to and use mathematics in different contexts. This includes processes such as using and understanding patterns, order and relationships to reinforce concepts such as number, time or space in their own and in others’ cultural and linguistic systems.

Information and communication technology (ICT) capability

Learning languages is enhanced through the use of multimodal resources, digital environments and technologies in the target language. Accessing live target language environments and texts via digital media contributes to the development of information technology capabilities as well as linguistic and cultural knowledge. Accessing different real-time contexts extends the boundaries of the classroom.

Critical and creative thinking

In learning a language, students interact with people and ideas from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which enhances critical thinking, reflection and encourages creative, divergent and imaginative thinking. By learning to notice, connect, compare and analyse aspects of the target language, students develop critical, analytic and problem-solving skills.

Personal and social capability

Interacting effectively in an additional language and with people of diverse language backgrounds involves negotiating and interpreting meaning in a range of social and cultural situations. This involves understanding and empathising, which are important elements of social and intercultural competence. Being open-minded and recognising that people view and experience the world in different ways, and learning to interact in a collaborative and respectful manner are key elements of personal and social competence.

Ethical understanding

When learning another language, students are taught explicitly to acknowledge and value difference in their interactions with others and to develop respect for diverse ways of perceiving and acting in the world. Opportunities are provided to monitor and to adjust their own ethical points of view. In learning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, students should consider appropriate ethical behaviour in terms of engaging with the owners and custodians of the languages. Similar consideration is required when interpreting and translating or when collecting and analysing primary research data.

Intercultural understanding

The development of intercultural understanding is a central aim of learning languages, as it is integral to communicating in the context of diversity, the development of global citizenship and lifelong learning. Students bring to their learning various preconceptions, assumptions and orientations shaped by their existing language(s) culture(s) to their learning that can be challenged by the new language experience. Learning to move between the existing and new languages and cultures is integral to language learning and is the key to the development of students’ intercultural capability. By learning a new language, or learning to use an existing language in new domains and contexts, students are able to notice, compare and reflect on things previously taken for granted; to explore their own linguistic, social and cultural practices as well as those associated with the target language. They begin to see the complexity, variability and sometimes the contradictions involved in using language.

Learning a new language does not require forsaking the first language. It is an enriching and cumulative process, which broadens the learners’ communicative repertoire, providing additional resources for interpreting and making meaning. Learners come to realise that interactions between different people through the use of different languages also involves interactions between the different kinds of knowledge, understanding and values that are articulated through language(s) and culture(s). They realise that successful intercultural communication is not only determined by what they do or say, but also by what members of the other language and culture understand from what they say or do.

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