Dear New Zealand education system, travelling with one language sucks
The other day I was buying a couple of ciders at 9.45pm in a Lithuanian supermarket. As I stood in line a drunk man skipped the queue, got served and left. The queue was reasonably long. In New Zealand I'd have said something, but right now I could do nothing. He didn't speak English, I didn't speak Lithuanian or Russian. My friend had to listen to my rant after we left.
It was at this point it truly hit home. New Zealand schools should make learning a second language mandatory. It's not just for those who travel, but it would also improve our society.
BACK IN MY DAY
I'm no old man (26) but the Maori we "learnt" in schools was worthless. The goal? Rote learn our mihi in a few weeks, stand in front of the class, mumble it out and drop "Maori learning" for the rest of the year. Maori is a dying language and outside of New Zealand no one speaks it. It would be great for us to preserve the language, outside of the curriculum.
Growing up I experienced what I now recognise as racism. At the time it was everyday behaviour. If a tourist or immigrant came to the dairy and struggled with a few words of English, it wasn't uncommon to make a joke or a snarky comment. By not understanding the difficulties of picking up a second language or spending time in a country where you cannot communicate, we are not opening ourselves up to a deeper understanding of what it's like for others.
MY BATTLES OVERSEAS
I have spent two of the last four years in non-English speaking countries. A majority of that time was spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is easy to get by there with a few phrases as the locals want to learn English but not knowing the language still puts you on the outside of the community, no matter how long you have been there.
WHAT HAPPENS OVERSEAS
We are blessed in New Zealand to have English as our native language. It provides a head start in life. Other nations have realised learning English as early as possible will open up more global opportunities. If you go to many Eastern Europe countries, the population under 30 can all speak English. The older population cannot as they weren't given the chance.
I spent a month in Latvia and could barely say hello and thank you. All my interactions were in English. It made my life easy but it would have been great to be able to interact with the older generation too.
In Belarus, they start learning English at age of six to seven (Russian and Belarusian are the official languages). In Ecuador, children learn English as soon as they get to primary school and Slovakia has recently decreased the age from nine to six years old.
Many of my friends, who speak English as their second language, speak it better than I do. A lot of them have never even set foot in an English-speaking country. They can also speak a handful of languages, not just their native language and English.
BENEFITS OF LEARNING A LANGUAGE
I'm a beginner at learning German, so the benefits for me thus far are headaches, increased creativity and a slight understanding of the culture. There are many benefits to learning a second language and I can't wait to immerse myself in Germany to fast track my learning.
HOW SHOULD NZ SCHOOLS TEACH ANOTHER LANGUAGE?
I'm not involved in NZ's education system so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Consistent learning is the best way to learn in school, not one six-week period once a year. That may mean hiring a (insert language) teacher in primary schools. At secondary schools, make it compulsory to learn a language up until year 11 or 12 and then teenagers can start making their own decisions. Also, doing a term abroad should be more actively encouraged during secondary school.
I am proud to say I am from New Zealand but having travelled abroad I have learnt we are disadvantaged by not being required to learn a second language.
Jub has travelled to 40+ countries and isn't afraid to question norms to get proof of mainstream assumptions. Whether the assumptions are right or wrong isn't important, learning is always valuable. He details his adventures on his blog Tiki Touring Kiwi.
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