English and community languages teachers attending the 14th National CLESOL Conference in Wellington this weekend will call on the government to develop a New Zealand languages policy "as a matter of urgency".
The conference at Rutherford House in Wellington from July 10-13 brings together community language teachers who work to maintain the first languages of migrant and refugee groups settled in New Zealand, and English (ESOL) teachers who work with speakers of other languages in all sectors of education.
TESOLANZ president Dr Hilary Smith says the changing ethnic make-up of New Zealand means all political parties need to make language teaching a key priority.
She says that although there are now over 160 different languages spoken in New Zealand and Auckland is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, we still don’t have a languages policy to support the complex and diverse needs of people who speak English as a second language.
"The language profile of New Zealand is changing rapidly, and without good policy and planning to cater for the diverse language needs of a significant number of residents we run the risk that many will not participate fully in our society, or reach their potential.
"Acquiring language fluency is a significant barrier to people getting jobs, understanding the system, getting a basic education and connecting with the community.
"We need to increase our competency in other languages to trade and do business in an increasingly complex world - especially now English is not the first language of many of our major trading partners.
"We also need to see the existing language skills of new migrants as an asset - not an impediment - to their learning," she says.
Dr Smith says TESOLANZ supports the Royal Society and the Human Rights Commission who have both called for a national languages policy focusing on: Te Reo MÄori and New Zealand Sign Language; Pasifika languages especially Cook Islands MÄori, Niuean and Tokealuan; other community and heritage languages; and English language.
"Future policy initiatives must be based on good evidence from high quality local and international research," she says.
"A strong body of international evidence now shows that children who have a good founda- tion in their first language have better outcomes in all subjects, including English. This means it’s important for teachers to understand how to support children’s learning in and of their first languages.
"If we make sure our migrant children are confident in both languages, this benefits them individually as well as the wider society. In some cases it will also have a direct economic future benefit, by enabling them to work confidently across two or more cultures."
Dr Smith says the "I’m not good at languages" mentality is now a luxury for people in English language speaking countries which is not shared by the rest of the world, and increasingly we are missing out on the social and economic benefits that an understanding of other languages brings.
Over 350 community language and ESOL teachers and researchers are expected to attend the conference, hosted by TESOLANZ in association with CLANZ (the Community Languages Association of New Zealand).
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