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Learning a language brings positive benefits



24 August 2008

Learning a language brings positive benefits

More New Zealanders may be speaking another language in the years to come, thanks to an upcoming initiative that will require a second language to be offered to all students in Years 7-10. The new curriculum, which comes into effect in 2010 in New Zealand schools, states that all children should receive the opportunity to learn another language. Promoting a multi-lingual society is a priority for the government as it benefits international trade and the economy, and promotes positive interaction between cultures in our communities. Many educators also believe that learning another language can increase the potential for success in other subjects at school.

For one community group, this initiative will have another advantage. Jehovah's Witnesses encourage children and adult members alike to learn a second language for an additional reason - to help people learn about the Bible in their own language. In the Auckland area alone they have foreign language groups in several Pacific languages - including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Hindi, Spanish, Tongan, Rarotongan, Nuiean, and Samoan.

West Auckland resident Tom Essex was introduced to Chinese, Japanese and German as an 11 year-old at Te Atatu Intermediate School, and decided to continue studying the Chinese language at Rutherford High School. "I guess I had a bit of fascination with China, so I decided on Chinese," he says. Although widely reputed to be a difficult language to learn, Tom says it "wasn't too difficult" because he started learning at a young age. He says that although his parents don't speak a second language, they were very supportive and this was something that helped his progress.

Learning a second language is beneficial for a number of reasons, says Tom.
Not only does it help people become more aware of the outside world, but it also develops empathy for other cultures.

“It broadens your horizons and opens up a whole new section of society that you might not previously have associated with,” he says, “and in the case of Chinese, I've suddenly gained access to nearly a third of the world's population.”

Tom works part-time as a video editor in West Auckland and uses the rest of his week for volunteer Bible work with the Chinese community in Auckland where he is involved in meeting and talking to them at their homes. After a year he says that although he often gets a funny look when he starts speaking fluent Chinese, most are happy to listen, and no-one has ever been rude to him.

"Sometimes you do get the odd surprised person who does a double take, but generally the reaction is positive." Tom remarks. "You don't hear too many Kiwi's speaking Chinese, so they get a real buzz when they hear someone else making the effort. They are very nice people to talk to and interested in what the Bible has to say especially on topics like family life, how to help young people, and also what the future holds. Crime and safety is another topic which has been coming up a lot lately."

Tom works along with the Auckland Chinese congregation based in Ponsonby who he says have made him feel very welcome. The group numbers around 60 and is made up of New Zealand and overseas born speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin. Several also speak other languages.

"We try to reach as many people as possible," Tom remarks, "and the Chinese community hasn't had as much opportunity to hear about the good news of the Bible as the English speaking community. I'm glad to use what ever skills I have to help."

Tom is gearing up for the biggest event of his year - helping out with an annual Bible conference that will be translated from English into Mandarin. Along with around 3000 others, Tom will attend the 'Guided by God's Spirit' District Convention at the Telstra Clear events centre in Manukau City from 29-31 August, which is a free public event.

Although all his language learning so far has been done in New Zealand, Tom has plans to spend a few months in Taiwan later this year perfecting his language skills.

"I'm really looking forward to that, and if a further opportunity to go overseas presents itself, that would be great," he says, "but I'm pretty happy where I am at the moment - there's plenty to do here."


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