Message from Chief Executive, Susan Warren

Posted on 17 May 2022

Building inclusive communities through language

Ngā mihi nui, ngā mihi mahana, ngā mihi aroha. Tēnā koutou katoa, Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Kia orana, Nisa bula vinaka, Taloha ni, Fakalofa lahi atu, Ni hao, Namaste, and warm greetings.

Last week we celebrated Rotuman language and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in the first of 14 language weeks being acknowledged over the next five months. These occasions provide an important opportunity to reflect on the richness that Tāmaki Makaurau’s many cultures and languages bring to our city. 

Our increasing language diversity is a huge strength for increasing social cohesion, identity, trade, tourism, education achievement and intercultural understanding. Learning another language is a powerful way to understand other cultures and is inextricably linked with an expanding world-view. Even relatively minimal learning of another language can bring insights into the culture and customs related to that language, and improve intercultural understanding and awareness.

In recent years, it’s been exciting to see a greater interest in learning and using te reo Māori, with adult education classes often booked out. Many schools and early learning centres are working hard to incorporate te reo in children’s learning. The opportunity lies for the remaining schools to teach more than just colours, numbers and greetings in te reo.

The New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 permits the use of NZSL in legal proceedings, facilitates competency standards for its interpretation and guides government departments in its promotion and use. To date, there has been little promotion or support for teaching and learning NZSL in the community, schools or initial teacher education.

Additionally, in the last ten years the learning of other languages is steadily declining in Aotearoa – with a significant decrease in the number of secondary students learning languages as a subject at school.

Supporting community languages

Migrant families often struggle to pass on their language to their children on average leading to language loss within two generations. This can result in cultural and social dislocation within communities and the subsequent social cost, and loss of potential economic benefits of cultural and linguistic competence for international trade.

These communities are struggling to maintain their languages without recognition and support from government, including within education, but this support is currently not available for many community languages. 

In response, we are seeing migrant communities set up their own language schools to help support the maintenance and learning of their language.

These schools are a potential resource for the education sector to enable them to support a wider range of languages, either within or outside school hours. However, the language schools must to be resourced to do this and children’s out-of-school learning needs to be recognised, as it is in some other countries. 

One of the most effective ways to ensure that diverse children and young people achieve their full potential in education would be to increase the availability and resourcing for Bilingual Education in languages with high enough student numbers. Evidence shows that learning in and through a first or heritage language results in improved long-term learning outcomes in the heritage language and in English, yet until last year there was very limited support for immersion or Bilingual Education in languages other than Te Reo Māori, and insufficient support even for that.

Constraints include a lack of bilingual teaching resources, assessments and tailored professional development, and a critical shortage of teachers with fluency in the target language and skill in teaching in a bilingual setting. Many potential bilingual teachers are unable to pass the very stringent English literacy assessments currently required on entry to, rather than graduation from, initial teacher education.

Increasing language diversity

At Te Hononga Akoranga COMET we welcome the Government’s recent announcements of increased support for kura and the first-ever central funding to Pasifika Bilingual Education. These are valuable steps which will require ongoing commitment and investment and are just the start of what is ultimately needed.

To make the most of the increasing language diversity in Aotearoa, we are calling for:

  • Every child to learn te reo Māori as core curriculum from year 1 to year 10
  • Every child to have support at school for English and their heritage language / community language of choice
  • A strategy to deliver this over time, including increasing teacher capability, attracting more fluent speakers into teaching of languages other than English, especially in te reo Māori and the five main Pasifika languages
  • Greater recognition of Pasifika languages, including Pasifika Bilingual Education re-established in the PEP
  • A review of the English language entry requirements for teacher education for candidates from non-English-speaking backgrounds
  • Funding and recognition for children and adults learning languages through community language schools

Each of these actions would be powerful alone, together they address many of the inequities we see in education, social and employment statistics.

The need for a National Language Policy

Te Hononga Akoranga COMET advocates for Aotearoa to develop a National Language Policy which would coordinate support for language diversity across government agencies. In 2017, the Auckland Languages Strategy Working Group brought Professor Joseph lo Bianco to Aotearoa to present on his experience of developing Australia’s National Language policy and advising a number of other countries to do the same. His strong recommendation was that Aotearoa would benefit from a more coherent language policy and we should begin the process with a consultation.

A National Language Policy would specifically address and be underpinned by Te Reo Māori as our nation’s indigenous language, and also encompass official recognition and support for Realm languages (Te Reo Kuki Airani, Vagahau Niue and Gagana Tokelau) and for the other major Pacific languages (Gagana Samoa and Lea Faka-Tonga), while recognising the value of all of Aotearoa’s 160+  community languages. With greater central government recognition and support, a National Language Policy could bring even greater richness to our city and nation.   

It would provide greater access to English as a second language; interpreting and translation services; language diversity in government communications and broadcasting; and maintaining heritage languages within families and communities.   

We would like to see the Government set a timeframe and funding for an independent nationwide consultation. Such a consultation would identify how to harness the benefits of a multilingual New Zealand and best utilise the gift that multilingual New Zealanders offer the nation, 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 former refugees.

Meanwhile, let’s make the most of the remaining 12 language weeks to highlight the value that Aotearoa’s language diversity brings.

Ngā mihi,


2022 Language Weeks:

  • May 8-14: Rotuman Language Week
  • May 9-15: NZSL Week
  • May 29-June 4: Samoa Language Week
  • June 13–17: International Languages Week
  • July 10-16: Kiribati Language Week 
  • July 31-August 06: Cook Islands Māori Language Week 
  • September 4-10: Tonga Language Week 
  • September 12 – 18: Te Wiki o te Reo Māori
  • September 25-October 1: Tuvalu Language Week 
  • September 25–October 2: Chinese Language Week
  • October 2-8: Fiji Language Week 
  • October 16-22: Niue Language Week 
  • October 17-21: Hindi Language Week
  • October 23-29: Tokelau Language Week