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de Bres: New Zealand needs to go multilingual

Human Rights Commission

Media Release 23 November 2007

Race Relations Commissioner: New Zealand needs to go multilingual

A concerted effort is needed to increase knowledge and use of a diverse range of languages in New Zealand says Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

Mr de Bres will be presenting a two-page draft national languages policy to an international conference on Language, Education and Diversity at Waikato University this weekend.

The policy establishes a framework for developing or renewing specific strategies in a range of key areas: English for speakers of other languages, Te Reo Maori, New Zealand Sign Language, Pacific languages, community and heritage languages and foreign languages.

It also calls for a focus on languages in the home, the community, education, public services, broadcasting and business.

The policy notes that English is the most widely used language in New Zealand, and the ability to communicate in English is important for all New Zealanders.

It points out that a majority of New Zealanders currently speak only one language. There are however significant communities who have a heritage language other than English. Maori, Pacific and Asian communities alone make up nearly a third of the population. The most common community languages other than English are Te Reo Maori, Chinese languages, Samoan, and Hindi.

Mr de Bres said that New Zealand has a particular responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote Te Reo Maori as the indigenous language of New Zealand. It also has a special responsibility to protect and promote other languages that are indigenous to the New Zealand realm: Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, Cook Island Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language. It has a regional responsibility, as a Pacific nation, to promote and protect other Pacific languages, particularly where significant proportions of their communities live in New Zealand.

He said that a significant and growing proportion of New Zealand’s trade is with Asia, and learning the languages of our key trading partners is an economic imperative.

Priorities in the implementation of a national languages policy are to:

Establish an appropriate coordinating and monitoring mechanism for language policy, and identify lead organisations for specific language and sector strategies Develop and maintain strategies for the identified languages and sectors Promote cooperation and sharing between agencies and communities in the development of strategies, resources and services Promote positive public attitudes to language diversity and increase the number of people learning languages Train and support more teachers of languages Develop resources to support language learning and use.

ENDS

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