Language framework should include other tongues as well

Joris de Bres

Wellington, November 11, 2017

Sunita Narayan is delighted to see new initiatives for te reo Maori and Pasifika languages in the Labour-led government’s policy programme, but hopes that other community languages will not be forgotten.

As the longest-serving member of the Wellington Hindi School, she knows the challenges that ethnic communities face to provide opportunities for young people to learn their heritage language, from paying for venues to professional development for teachers and producing appropriate educational resources.

As President of the Community Languages Association of New Zealand (CLANZ) she knows the frustrations of lobbying successive Ministers and public servants, without success, for Government support.

“I would have been happy with what Pasifika communities already have – an official Pasifika Languages Framework – even if it is seen as inadequate by Pasifika communities. It would have been something to build on. Instead, we have next to nothing,” she said.

Labour Manifesto impressive

Sunita is impressed with new proposals in Labour’s manifesto for Pasifika languages.

These include recognising five languages – Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Niuean and Tokelauan – as official community languages, and enhancing their use in the education system. Research into appropriate models for bilingual education at all levels will be supported.

A long-time source of resentment among Pasifika educators has been the halt to the publication of Pasifika language resources by the Education Ministry.

The reading series, Tupu and Folauga, will be revived alongside other resources for Pasifika bilingual education.

Pasifika Goals

The goals for Pasifika literacy, research and bilingualism, removed from the Pasifika Education Plan in 2009, are to be restored. A Pasifika Language Policy for promotion of Pasifika languages in the community will be developed.

By contrast, Labour’s manifesto contains only one general reference to ethnic community languages. Community based programmes “for people to learn an array of languages” will be supported through the restoration of Adult Community Education.

Flow-on effect

Sunita is hoping that with the appointment of a Pasifika Cabinet Minister, Jenny Salesa, as Ethnic Communities Minister, the raised status of Pasifika languages will have a flow-on effect to other community languages. In the lead-up to the election, a meeting of 300 people in South Auckland, marking the end of Hindi Language Week, called for Hindi to be recognised as a community language (Indian Newslink, October 1, 2017).

“There has been huge growth in ethnic communities in New Zealand, and increasingly they want their children to learn their heritage language” she said.

Community Language framework

Sunita would like to see a Community Languages Framework which gives support to language learning in the community as well as in the formal education system. It would help community schools immensely if they had free access to schools after school or at the weekend, so that they would not have to fundraise for venue hire.

They would also welcome support in the production of teaching resources, community language curricula and professional development for teachers.

NCEA qualifications for community languages would help to create pathways for students at school and encourage them to persevere.

A community languages policy could also open the door to anyone else looking to learn a community language.

“We are not asking for the earth. Even a little would go a long way. We are concerned to see our languages survive and prosper, not at the expense of other languages but in tandem with them. An increasing number of New Zealanders originate from countries with first languages other than English, some of them of great economic importance to New Zealand,” Sunita said.

“We celebrate the new initiatives for te reo Maori and Pasifika languages and encourage the new Minister Ethnic Communities Minister to develop a Community Languages Framework for ethnic communities.

We look to Labour’s Asian MPs, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Raymond Huo to advocate for us. We all stand to benefit,” she added.

Joris de Bres was New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner from 2002 to 2013. He is now an Honorary Advisor to Multicultural New Zealand and Community Language Association of New Zealand.

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