Canty figures of speech reveal trends

16:00, Dec 05 2013
Michelle Talingting
LONG WAY FROM HOME: Michelle Talingting.

Tagalog is the fastest-growing language in Canterbury, new census data reveals.

The number of people speaking the language, which is mainly used in the Philippines, has grown across New Zealand as people move here to work predominantly in the dairy industry, nursing homes and on the Christchurch rebuild.

The number of Tagalog speakers in Canterbury has more than quadrupled from 813 in 2006 to 3348, according to the latest census data released this week.

Nationally, the figure has grown 132 per cent from 12,483 to 29,016, with dramatic rises in the South Island. The number of people speaking the language has grown from 99 to 672 in Southland and 195 to 762 in Otago.

Christchurch Migrants Centre Trust manager Rex Gibson said Filipino people working on the rebuild needed support. They were mainly men on their own sending any money they earned back to their families in the Philippines.

"In the nursing industry they are doing a very good job of supporting each other, but with the rebuild workers it is a huge cultural experience.


"Many have been working overseas in the Persian Gulf and Japan, but they haven't worked in the western framework before. They are not only up against cultural differences but bureaucratic differences as well."

Gibson said his migrants centre runs English classes and a support service for Filipino workers. A recent basketball tournament organised by the centre attracted about 80 Filipino competitors and hundreds of spectators.

The mayor of Ashburton, Angus McKay, estimated five per cent of the town's population are Filipino.

A fundraising event organised by the Filipino community in Ashburton after the recent typhoon filled the 400-capacity Ashburton Events Centre, he said.

"They are a nation that likes to work and have opportunities and we have that in Ashburton."

Dairy chairman for Federated Farmers, Willy Leferink, said about 2500 Filipinos worked on dairy farms run by the organisation's members in New Zealand.

He said the workers came to New Zealand on two-year visas, but could become residents through the usual immigration process.

"If you look after them, they are great employees and they move up the ladder very quickly," he said.

But the number of people speaking Tagalog in Canterbury is still fewer than one per cent of the total population. Other languages that grew in use throughout Canterbury were Hindi, northern Chinese, Spanish and Tongan.

The ethnic makeup of Canterbury stayed broadly stable, with the percentage of the population who identify as European, Maori and Asian growing slightly.

New census data detailing the birthplace of people coming to Canterbury over the past four years shows arrival numbers dipping during the earthquake years before recovering and, for some groups, exceeding previous highs.

Most new arrivals came from the UK, Ireland and Asia.


Christchurch is a long way from Southeast Asia, but Michelle Talingting feels like she is "in the Philippines" when she gets home at night.

The 27-year-old moved into a Riccarton share house with 10 other people three weeks ago. They all speak Tagalog - the Philippines' national language.

"I feel like I am in the Philippines, which is a bit weird. Some of them are from different parts," she said.

The 2013 census showed there are 3348 Tagalog speakers in Canterbury - a 300 per cent increase since 2006.

Talingting was born and grew up in Cebu, which was badly hit by Typhoon Haiyan last month. She moved to Auckland about four years ago to study business, recently landed a job as a human resources adviser in Christchurch and hopes to one day gain permanent residency.

Tagalog, pronounced "Ta-gaa-log", is Talingting's mother tongue. She also speaks a dialect particular to Cebu, which incorporates many Spanish words, and is fluent in English.

"I have learnt to adapt. Change is the only thing permanent," she said.

Talingting said Kiwis were "laid back", "very nice" and "down to Earth". She was pleased New Zealand did not have issues with overcrowding like in the Philippines.

"That's one thing I appreciate - the space, the scenery. I think more Filipino people are attracted to come to New Zealand because of good feedback."

Lana Hart, the Settlement Support Co-ordinator at the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, said there had been "hundreds if not thousands" of temporary work visas approved since the census was collected. Many were for Filipino workers.

"We are diversifying so much as a region and it's happening really, really quickly. We have a pipeline of skilled labour coming from Manila to Christchurch. The tap is open and it does not look like it's going to be closed for some time," she said.

The influx meant Christchurch would be "one of the quickest multicultural cities that we will ever see being made".

Filipinos were adaptable people with a strong history of working offshore to support their families.

Most of those Hart worked with hoped to eventually bring their families to New Zealand.

"They come here and are treated fairly. We have a pretty egalitarian society compared to other countries they have worked in and they love it."

The Press