Education groups in New Zealand are lobbying to make learning a second language compulsory for all NZ students. The push comes after both Britain and Australia have made the move. Often, NZ takes its cues and follows suit on policies implemented by Britain and Australia, and teachers’ organizations and education professionals are hoping the trend will hold true on this issue. Not only are the voices coming from high school education and tertiary levels – the Primary Principals Federation is one of the major players pushing for the move, wanting second languages introduced across the board for all school ages. Currently it is not common for NZ children to take second language classes in primary school (the equivalent of elementary school in the US).
Why the push for a law change that would make learning new languages mandatory? According to those pushing for the changes, there are significant and noticeable results that stem from introducing of a nation’s pupils to other languages from an early age. New Zealand has a low rate of multi-language speakers compared to many countries in Europe, because NZ has no bordering nations – it is an island nation whose closest neighbour is Australia, a country in which English is also the predominant language. The geographical pressure to learn multiple languages is not as strong in New Zealand as it is in some other parts of the world. Therefore, the teachers argue, New Zealand needs to enforce rules on learning second languages in order to raise the level of competence when it comes to speaking multiple tongues.
While many of the perceived benefits are economic, in a wider context multi-language speakers find it much easier to survive and thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. Even though New Zealanders primarily speak English, which is already the primary language of international business, there are many benefits that accrue from educating a population to communicate in a diverse array of languages. Benefits include a greater cultural enrichment and embracing of more diverse ideas. Having a grasp of at least one second language helps in cultural experiences like leisure travel as well as in international business.