Teacher says pupils must learn languages
Learning a foreign language should be made compulsory in all New Zealand schools, says Marlborough Girls' College head of department for languages Hilary Hunt.
Mrs Hunt is speaking following revelations of the low number of New Zealand's secondary students learning Mandarin, which has caused concern among business and education leaders about the effect on the country's future economic relationship with China.
Mrs Hunt said students here were trailing their peers in Europe and Asia, where it was common to learn and be conversant in two or more languages at an early age, she said.
She had been surprised at the low number of students at Marlborough Girls' opting to learn a second language, compared to other schools she had taught at.
But with fewer nationalities in Blenheim, the social drive for learning languages may not be the same as in larger cities such as Auckland, where foreign language speakers were far more prevalent, she said. Westlake Boys' High School, where Mrs Hunt taught in 2008, had offered French, Japanese, German, Mandarin and Latin.
Marlborough Girls stopped offering Japanese as a subject two years ago and replaced it with Spanish.
Although some students had been disappointed, those really wanting to learn Japanese, or any other Asian languages, were better off travelling and immersing themselves in the language and culture, she said.
Schools across the country were dealing with a shortage of Asian language teachers, which Mrs Hunt believed was partly because of the complexity of these languages.
Mount Maunganui College, where Mrs Hunt taught last year, and several Auckland schools had or were removing Japanese from the curriculum.
"Japanese is definitely on its way out," she said.
Queen Charlotte College deputy principal Betty Whyte believed foreign languages should be introduced to primary school-aged pupils, if only in the form of basic greetings.
The earlier children were introduced to languages, the earlier this type of learning would become embedded, she said.
Learning a second language helped students gain a better understanding of their first language, expand their learning and thinking skills, and develop tolerance of second language speakers, she said.
Marlborough Boys' College principal Wayne Hegarty said that offering students the chance to learn Mandarin and Japanese was sensible because of trading ties with China, and the school's link with Jissen Gakuen.
Head of department for English and languages Nicholas Richards said it was vital for students to develop highly effective literacy skills in the 21st century and the age of information and communication.
Students opting to learn languages:
Marlborough Girls' College: Maori, 45; French, 38; Spanish, 11.
Marlborough Boys' College: Maori, 66; French, 22;
Foreign Language Study, a taster course with an option of Mandarin or French, all year 9 students.
Queen Charlotte College: Maori, 39; Japanese, 26; Spanish, 2; French, 2; German, 1.
- The Marlborough Express