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Call to back a consultation for a National Language Policy

Call for next Govt to back an independent, nationwide consultation for a National Languages Policy

Language advocates are calling for the next Government to support an independent, nationwide consultation to draw up a National Languages Policy.

The call comes from the working group behind the Auckland Languages Strategy in response to language policy announcements by Labour andNational.

Working group member Professor Miriam Meyerhoff of Victoria University of Wellington says the announcements are “a big deal”.

“We now have within the New Zealand political landscape all major political parties agreeing something has to be done about the learning and maintenance of languages in New Zealand.

“While it’s great to have all the parties talking about it, now we’d like to see them put some skin in the game”.

Working group chair, Susan Warren of COMET Auckland, says while it’s great to see the major parties are talking seriously about languages, it needs to be part of a broader national languages policy.

“We believe a multilingual country means speaking English, Maori and at least one other language. But teaching selected languages is not enough. It’s much wider than just education. It requires an overarching policy.”

Such a policy would need to specifically address and be underpinned by te reo Māori, she says.

A National Languages Policy would also need to encompass official recognition and support for Realm languages (Cook Islands Māori, Vagahau Niue and Gagana Tokelau), access to English as a second language teaching, interpreting and translation services, and maintaining heritage languages within families and communities.

“We are calling on the next Government to set a timeframe and funding for an independent nationwide consultation, within the first six months of taking office,” Ms Warren says.

Such a consultation would identify how to harness the benefits of a multilingual New Zealand – including improved school achievement, better career and job prospects for young New Zealanders, reduced barriers to trade and economic development, and enhanced social cohesion and integration of migrants and refugees.

Languages researcher John McCaffery of the University of Auckland says there’s already a groundswell of interest and support for a national languages policy.

About 30 organisations across the country have been working together on Auckland’s languages strategy. The Royal Society supported a visit earlier in August by the architect of Australia’s national languages strategy, Professor Joseph Lo Bianco.

Mr McCaffery says talk about languages can involve strong, competing views and an independent consultation will help New Zealand reach a consensus.

“My strong view is we need to begin the conversation now, because of the diverse nature of New Zealand.”


ENDS


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