New Zealand: Munukau hopes for Pacific language focus

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Apr 28 13:26:24 UTC 2007

City hopes for Pacific language focus

5:00AM Saturday April 28, 2007
By Simon Collins

Yendarra Primary School teacher Rosa Fuli leads a Year 6 Samoan bilingual
class. Many students enjoy the chance to speak the language their parents
use at home.  Roughly one in three (31 per cent) of Manukau residents in
last year's Census could speak more than one language - almost twice the
national average of 17.5 per cent. A Manukau education conference, which
began yesterday, is considering a proposal by the city's Pacific Islands
Advisory Committee to actively encourage bilingualism.

But schools running bilingual classes say they are frustrated by a
shortage of trained teachers and resources in Pacific languages. The
Pacific committee suggests in a "vision statement" that bilingual schools
and units would be "commonplace" in the Manukau of the future. "Policy
would encourage academics and educationalists to see Manukau as the centre
of educational excellence for Pacific people," it says. "This will have an
economic as well as educational benefit for Pacific people in Manukau, who
could be trained and then employed as teachers, experts or researchers."

A report for this weekend's conference says Manukau has a special role in
maintaining the languages of three island groups whose people have New
Zealand citizenship and whose population mostly now lives in this country.
"Ninety-one per cent of Niueans, 83 per cent of Tokelauans and 73 per cent
of Cook Islanders live in New Zealand. Their languages are at risk of
becoming extinct," it says. Almost half of New Zealand speakers of both
Cook Islands Maori and Niuean, and about a tenth of New Zealand speakers
of Tokelauan, live in Manukau.  The city also has 37 per cent of the
country's Samoan speakers.

At Otara's Yendarra Primary School, even NZ-born students in the Years 5
and 6 Samoan bilingual class say they enjoy being in the class so they can
speak the language their parents use at home. Almost half the school's 400
pupils are Samoan. "I like speaking in Samoan," said Ronayne Paea, 10. "I
like coming to this class because we can ... work in and talk about things
in both languages [Samoan and English]," said Linda Tiatia, also 10.
Principal Susan Dunlop said children who learned Samoan at home often
struggled with aspects of English such as reading, but "as soon as you put
it into their own language they just fly ahead".

"Our second-language children don't see it as being particularly
difficult. We say they are blessed with bilingual brains and it's a gift
we like to nurture," she said. But she said there was unsatisfied demand
from parents to get their children into the three bilingual classes. A
full-immersion Samoan class for new entrants had to be scrapped after a
teacher went to Australia last year, although it will begin again next
year. Deputy principal Sia Talataina said the Samoan teachers also had to
create many of their own resources, such as song charts and cards for
numbers, reading and poems.

Mrs Talataina's dream was for local intermediate and high schools to offer
bilingual classes so Samoan students could keep up the language. The
acting principal of Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate's senior school, Sue
Milnes, said her school now offered bilingual classes in Cook Islands
Maori, Tongan, Samoan and NZ Maori. But this is unusual. "The difficulty
with Cook Islands Maori is that ... it's very hard to get teachers."
Mangere College, which has the city's highest proportions of
high-school-age Cook Islands Maori (20 per cent) and Niueans (9 per cent),
offers Samoan to its large Samoan roll (39 per cent) but no other Pacific


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