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Bilingual learning useful in multicultural lives

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014
Xavier Courteau-Laing
BONJOUR: Xavier Courteau-Laing, 5, is a student in Birkdale North Primary School’s bilingual unit Etoile du Nord.

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Xavier Courteau-Laing is only 5 but he is already on his way to being bilingual.

He is taught in French three days a week and in English two days a week in Birkdale North School's bilingual unit.

His mum Mona-Lynn Courteau is French-Canadian and says it is really important for Xavier to grow up with the language.

"It's a question of heritage, a question of place," she says.

Courteau wants Xavier to be able to speak to her side of the family in their own language and understand cultural references.

At home in Beach Haven, Xavier speaks French to mum and English to dad, who is a New Zealander.

Courteau says they are "super lucky" to have the bilingual unit, which was introduced in 2012 by FRENZ, a not-for-profit association set up by the French-speaking community.

FRENZ celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The group's other bilingual unit is at Richmond Road School and is being studied by University of Auckland senior lecturer John McCaffery.

"Trying to keep children monolingual in a multilingual world is a hopeless task," he says. "Encouraging bilingualism is about preparing your children for a diverse, multicultural world."

McCaffery says there are some misconceptions about bilingual education.

"It's not about teaching your English-speaking children French and vice versa. They don't sit down and learn that ‘la chaise' means ‘chair' in English. A bilingual education means that both languages are used as mediums of instruction for all subjects in the teaching curriculum."

Courteau says she would encourage the bilingual units for any language.

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