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Govt investment may halt decline in language learning

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Government investment may halt decline in language learning

A $10 million Government investment in the provision of Asian languages in schools may help halt New Zealand’s rapid decline in language learning, says AUT University’s Head of Language and Culture, Associate Professor Sharon Harvey.

Over the past few years, the number of students studying a second language has dropped drastically. “It’s great to see action being taken. Asia is vitally important to New Zealand on many fronts, and it is becoming increasingly important that New Zealanders are equipped with the strong intercultural skills needed to work productively in this arena,” says Associate Professor Harvey.

Yesterday, the New Zealand Government announced it will invest $10 million over five years to increase the study of Asian languages in schools. The contestable fund will help schools establish new Mandarin, Japanese or Korean language programmes, and enhance existing Asian language programmes.

While Associate Professor Harvey welcomes the move to encourage languages to be learnt, she cautions that rolling out the initiatives stimulated by the funding won’t be easy.

“There are many practical challenges ahead, particularly building the pool of language teachers in New Zealand. Lifting our proficiency in Asian languages will take substantial resourcing, and will need to be carefully planned for.”

She also calls for a more complete view to be taken, advocating a policy that also supports non-Asian languages, and that preserves and improves language proficiency in bilingual school children of all ages.

“We need a comprehensive ‘languages in education policy’ that coherently considers all issues surrounding languages in schools. We should avoid pitting some languages against others for resources, and work to protect the natural language resources New Zealand has gained through our sizeable diasporic communities.”


Notes for editors

Language Learning Statistics in New Zealand
Numbers of students learning an additional language in Years 9-13:
2008: 1,726
2012: 2,849
2006: 141
2012: 0
2006: 18,489
2012: 12,473

Associate Professor Sharon Harvey

Associate Professor Sharon Harvey is Head of the School of Language and Culture, and Deputy Dean of Research for the Faculty of Culture and Society at AUT University.

She was an ESOL and workplace literacy teacher for many years, and over the past 15 years has been closely involved in the development of postgraduate programmes and research AUT University.

Sharon led three national Ministry of Education research evaluations over the period 2007-2011, in the areas of languages in education.

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