NZ ad­dresses the lan­guage bar­rier

The Southland Times - - Business - Si­mon Draper Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion

Acou­ple of months back, I had the chance to chat to a suc­cess­ful Kiwi lawyer based in Sin­ga­pore. He’d been work­ing there for more than a decade on in­ter­est­ing in­ter­na­tional projects and had earned an im­pres­sive salary.

At the event we were at, univer­sity stu­dents grilled him for ca­reer ad­vice.

But he con­fessed to me that if he were grad­u­at­ing to­day, the skills he had in his early twen­ties would no longer be enough.

In par­tic­u­lar, he left univer­sity mono­lin­gual, which would put him at a dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tage to­day.

Com­pe­ti­tion for jobs is now much greater, he said, with many mul­ti­lin­gual and glob­al­lye­d­u­cated grad­u­ates com­ing out of the likes of In­dia and China.

Here in Aotearoa, we cel­e­brated Te Wiki o Te Reo Ma¯ ori last week.

It was ac­com­pa­nied by the usual grum­bles from some New Zealan­ders who would pre­fer it if ev­ery­body just spoke Eng­lish all the time. Thank­fully, these grum­bles seem to be di­min­ish­ing.

And just days ear­lier, Auck­land Cen­tral MP Nikki Kaye’s Ed­u­ca­tion (Strength­en­ing Sec­ond Lan­guage Learn­ing in Pri­mary and In­ter­me­di­ate Schools) Amend­ment Bill was drawn from the bal­lot at Par­lia­ment to go to its first read­ing.

Kaye’s pro­posed bill would re­quire the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to set at least 10 national pri­or­ity lan­guages for schools fol­low­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion process.

The bill says te reo Ma¯ ori and New Zealand sign lan­guages will be on the list that schools can choose from.

School boards would de­cide which would be taught.

‘‘I’d ex­pect that other lan­guages that would be con­sulted on would in­clude Man­darin, French, Spanish, Ja­panese, Korean and po­ten­tially Hindi,’’ Kaye said.

Mean­while, the Green Party launched a pol­icy aimed at mak­ing te reo a core cur­ricu­lum topic by 2025.

Kaye’s bill, and the Greens pol­icy, give New Zealand an op­por­tu­nity to make some real progress on lan­guage learn­ing.

The Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion is keen to see the bill progress to se­lect com­mit­tee so New Zealan­ders can have a proper con­ver­sa­tion about the topic. We need a national lan­guages pol­icy.

Our Per­cep­tions of Asia re­search has shown 80 per cent of New Zealan­ders be­lieve chil­dren should learn a sec­ond lan­guage at school.

But the re­al­ity is New Zealand has gen­er­ally left the re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­vest­ing in up­skilling Ki­wis in lan­guages to for­eign gov­ern­ments and in­sti­tu­tions.

In the 1980s and 1990s, more New Zealand stu­dents chose to study Ja­panese than any other lan­guage, aided by in­vest­ment from Ja­pan in ini­tia­tives such as the JET scheme and sup­port for New Zealand teach­ers of Ja­panese.

To­day, Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes in our uni­ver­si­ties ad­min­is­ter the Chi­nese govern­ment’s Man­darin Lan­guage As­sis­tants scheme, which sees these as­sis­tants work­ing along­side New Zealand teach­ers in our schools.

This ex­ter­nal in­vest­ment by over­seas coun­tries has pre­vi­ously prompted con­cerns in some quar­ters that the teach­ing of te reo isn’t al­ways re­sourced in the same way.

The foun­da­tion knows from our work with schools that chil­dren who are bilin­gual find it eas­ier to ac­quire fur­ther lan­guages and be­come mul­ti­lin­gual.

We have vis­ited schools in Gis­borne and Taranaki with chil­dren who are al­ready bilin­gual in te reo and Eng­lish. Their teach­ers have been struck by how eas­ily these stu­dents have picked up Man­darin.

Mul­tilin­gual­ism is nor­mal in much of the world. If New Zealand wants to raise global cit­i­zens, then stu­dents need to know where they stand in the world, and know­ing who they are as New Zealan­ders is a fun­da­men­tal part of that.

Boards of trustees, prin­ci­pals and teach­ers at many schools around Aotearoa have been work­ing hard to cre­ate class­room en­vi­ron­ments that foster bilingualism and mul­tilin­gual­ism.

Fam­i­lies also play a role, but it shouldn’t be up to them alone.

It’s time for our Govern­ment to in­vest in lan­guages in a sus­tain­able way.

Coun­tries make an in­vest­ment in lan­guage teach­ing to help their young peo­ple be­come more cul­tur­ally com­pe­tent, com­pet­i­tive and glob­ally mo­bile.

Soon, mono­lin­gual lawyers want­ing to work in Sin­ga­pore prob­a­bly won’t make the cut.

Vol­un­teer Man­darin tu­tor Sunny Shan with re­sources gifted by the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute to Ao­raki Polytech­nic in Ti­maru. Over­seas gov­ern­ments and or­gan­i­sa­tions have stepped into the lan­guage gap here, says Si­mon Draper.

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