Kiwis now speak more than 160 languages, but the country is failing to adapt to its growing diversity, a new report says.
The New Zealand Royal Society report on language says the country has become one of a handful of "linguistically superdiverse" nations.
"We are not unique in this, but this increasing diversity will develop at a faster rate than most nations," the report says.
The society has urged the Government to develop a national language policy, saying our failure to teach adequate English to migrants means we are missing out on a huge reservoir of knowledge and skills.
It also wants New Zealand to follow Australia and Britain in making it mandatory for all high school pupils to learn another langauge.
It says The society called for this to change, with studies showing bilingualism improves other areas of learning, including creative thinking and maths.
The report is also critical of efforts to maintain our two other official languages: Maori and New Zealand Sign Language.
Progress on supporting the deaf has been slow and, despite efforts to reinvigorate te reo, its future remains uncertain, it says.
Professor Richard Le Heron, who oversaw the report, said New Zealand was lagging behind other countries in tackling its linguistic diversity.
"This should give us cause for a rev-up. We are not doing enough."
Based on 2006 census figures, the report shows a growing diversity of languages, particularly in Auckland.
Parts of East Cape and Northland were also highly linguistically diverse, mainly because of the prevalence of spoken Maori.
In the Wellington region, the most linguistically diverse areas were in eastern Porirua and some eastern Wellington suburbs, including Miramar.
Mr Le Heron said today's Census was likely to reveal increasing linguistic fragmentation.
"Have we reached a point in Auckland where the minor language speakers outnumber the major language speakers? That would have huge implications."
Between 2001 and 2006, the number of people who spoke Hindi doubled. Other languages, including Mandarin and Korean, also experienced massive growth.
In 2006, more than 670,000 New Zealanders spoke more than one language. For most, one of those languages was English, with only 2.2 per cent unable to have an everyday conversation in English.
Raymond Huo, Labour's first Chinese-born MP, has urged Asian voters to fill in their census papers, despite reservations they might have about language barriers and intrusions into their privacy.
Mr Huo, also Labour's statistics spokesman, said: “I would encourage anyone who has doubts to make use of the multilingual resources that are available and talk to somebody on the toll-free helpline."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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