Schooling ‘weakens bilingual skills’
Asian ethnicity is the fastestgrowing demographic in New Zealand, but early childhood education centres are watering down a bilingual population, a new report claims.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation report, Starting Strong: Nurturing the potential of Asian under-fives, found one in five children born in New Zealand was now of Asian descent, but once they started school their native tongues took a back seat.
The foundation, which runs social, economic and education research programmes to influence policy, wants the Government to create a national languages policy in response to the findings, published on Wednesday.
Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper said the children identified by the report were given a head start in speaking more than one language, and believed those cultural skills should be nurtured, for the good of Kiwi relations with Asia.
‘‘We need to come up with a deliberate and co-ordinated approach to ensure the language skills and cultural understanding of these children are not lost.’’
He said the call was not about choosing one dialect over the other, but there was ‘‘no reason these children cannot learn Eng- lish and at the same time retain their heritage language’’.
‘‘New Zealand’s present and future workforce needs to be confident and competent in engaging with Asia ... that will be a real advantage when they enter the workforce 15 to 20 years from now.’’
But the data showed Asian parents did not expect early childhood education (ECE) centres to take responsibility in furthering their children’s heritage skills.
Asian parents instead requested English was spoken even when bilingual teachers were available. They believed flu- ency was essential for a smooth transition to school, the report found.
Dai Phonevilay, who is well known for her stint on My Kitchen Rules, said she grew up in a bilingual household in Porirua as a refugee from Laos.
Her daughter, who is under 5, was also learning the same skills, she said.
‘‘There’s so many advantages in having that [bilingual] skill ... It’s always been a core value of mine for her to learn and understand, and to know, her language. Not only just to communicate with the family but other people within the community.’’
Children at an early childhood education centre. A new report has found children of Asian descent are losing their bilingual skills by the time they start school. Above, Porirua’s Dai Phonevilay is determined her daughter will be bilingual.