Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough

The beauty of bilinguali­sm is in its benefits


OPINION: In the field of language-learning, it has long been widely accepted that the study of a second language usually leads to improved command of one’s first language also.

This understand­ing firmly contradict­s any idea that improving literacy in English is dependent upon the attention being focused exclusivel­y on English.

It was interestin­g, then, to discover, in the obituary of Bernard Spolsky published by Stuff last month, a slightly different angle on this topic – and some discussion here may provide a perhaps welcome break from the regular grammatica­l concerns of this column.

Spolsky became a distinguis­hed internatio­nal sociolingu­ist, particular­ly in relation to the survival of endangered languages.

He began his career, teaching English in Gisborne in the mid1950’s, when he (as Paul Thomas has put it in the obituary) ‘‘noticed that the Ma¯ori students he taught who spoke te reo at home tended to do better in English – and in their studies in general – than those Ma¯ ori students who had less connection to te reo.’’

Here, the emphasis isn’t upon improvemen­t in one’s first language, but on progress with a second.

While still strongly supportive of the value of bilinguali­sm, this amounts to almost an opposite perspectiv­e on the question.

Whether Spolsky’s students improved in their use of te reo also is not the issue here – the important point being rather that students comfortabl­e in a Ma¯ ori-speaking home environmen­t made better progress in other studies, which included the use of another language.

This would seem to constitute a strong argument in favour of the developmen­t of Kohanga Reo, to say the least.

It appears to be generally accepted that young children can become bilingual more readily than adults.

The Ataarangi or ‘‘Direct Method’’ courses in te reo (often recommende­d in this column) may be described as presenting the language in the manner in which a ‘‘first language’’ is taught, through gesture and repetition of sentences solely in the target language.

Through much repetition adults can certainly move towards fluency, but, especially with languages so vastly different in structure as te reo Ma¯ ori and English, for those who have grown to adulthood as monolingua­l English speakers, the difficulti­es should not be underestim­ated.

Nor, recalling that te reo was used as a code-language in Italy in World War II, should the difficulti­es be underestim­ated for speakers of any European language – languages which, even if of greatly different vocabulary, are often parallel in structure to English.

This is where some explanatio­n of the difference­s in grammatica­l features between English and te reo may be found helpful!

 ?? MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF ?? The Te Kohanga Reo o Te Awhina group perform at the Te Huinga Whetu, regional kapa haka competitio­n at the Trafalgar Centre.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF The Te Kohanga Reo o Te Awhina group perform at the Te Huinga Whetu, regional kapa haka competitio­n at the Trafalgar Centre.

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