Celebrating language and diversity

Issue: Volume 99, Number 15

Posted: 18 September 2020
Reference #: 1HABGN

Language weeks are an opportunity for students from different ethnic groups to be proud about their cultural identities: if done well, they can foster diversity and inclusion in school communities.

Cherishing Pacific language and culture

With approximately 400,000 Pacific people in New Zealand, language weeks are a good starting point for the celebration of Pacific diversity, says Bryan Leilua.

A New Zealand-born Samoan, Bryan Leilua has taught for 20 years, is a Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), Cluster 12 in Manurewa, and is leader of Pacific RTLB team  Fetū o le Moana (Star of the Ocean). He is also part of the Tautai group of Pacific RTLBs across Auckland. 

“One of my passions is doing my part to support Pacific students’ achievement in the New Zealand education system. For me, the most important word in the recently released Action Plan for Pacific Education(external link) is the word ‘action’,” says Bryan. 

“My wish is for all teachers to take imperfect action, combined with reflection with an intention to improve. I believe that taking even small steps in the right direction will get us to where we need to be for our Pacific people.”

Nine Pacific language weeks held each year in Aotearoa allow teachers to acknowledge and cherish the rich cultures of the different Pacific Islands. Teachers are able to validate and appreciate the cultural heritage and identities of students in their classes who come from these islands. 

“For other students, the language weeks allow them to study our Pacific neighbours and develop curiosity and empathy,” explains Bryan.

Students in classroom

Language important to identity

Bryan says he regrets not being able to speak Samoan himself, and that learning how to speak Gagana Sāmoa will be a lifelong goal.

“My oldest brother was fluent in Samoan when he started school; my parents were told to speak English at home and so they did. By the time I was born, English was the language that I heard most of the time. This language and cultural disconnect has been passed down from me to my children and grandchildren. 

“One of my biggest regrets in life is not being able to speak my language. I can testify that language and identity are one. Despite being proficient in English, I am not English. I am not fluent in Samoan, so I am not welcomed as fully Samoan. I don’t want that for the next generation of Pacific students,” he reflects.

Power of bilingual brain

It’s important for Pacific students to see themselves, their cultures and languages reflected in The New Zealand Curriculum and living and breathing within classroom walls, says Bryan.

“Research shows the power of the bilingual brain and I fully support Pacific students growing up connected to their language and identity. Parents think that they are doing what’s best for their children by speaking English, but they are unaware that they are doing damage to their children’s identity that can only be healed by learning their Pacific language and culture.”

Just the beginning

Language weeks are a great way to highlight and honour a particular Pacific nation, but they are only a beginning. Teachers can extend language and cultural appreciation beyond language weeks, says Bryan.

“One of the most important starting points is to pronounce the students’ names correctly. At the beginning of each year, I would always ask students how they pronounce their own name and attempt to pronounce their name correctly. 

“Pacific students’ names are part of their identity and many students are given names of honour or named after important people in their lives.”

He also suggests trying and using a variety of words and phrases in the classroom to reflect the cultures of the students in the class.

“Learning new words and phrases in another language develops an empathy in the teachers for the many students who struggle to learn English as a second language,” he says.

Ideas for celebrating language 

Bryan and his colleagues have a kete of ideas that teachers can use to celebrate Pacific language year-round: 

  • RTLB Cluster 12 has developed Language Week Google presentations that can be changed to suit different year levels. The dynamic presentations can be used as PLD about each Pacific island or used to educate students. They feature songs, dances, phrases, and national anthems. For older students, there are discussion topics that can be used to highlight issues facing Pacific islands such as climate change and loss of language. 
  • Bridge the gap between home and school. Invite families into school and show parents that their culture is valued and adds diversity and richness to your school. 
  • Allow your Pacific Island students to take centre stage. Use them as fountains of knowledge and have them make videos, create resources or take language lessons. Build upon this library of resources each year. 
  • Students may want to present a dance or celebration of their culture to their class, or school – teachers could also learn a dance or song from the Pacific Islands to share.
  • Cook and enjoy some food from the Pacific Islands.
  • Learn a variety of words/phrases early in the language week and then have quizzes, Kahoots, or class competitions. Challenge yourself to use the words and phrases during every interaction.
  • As a teacher, you aren’t expected to learn everything in one week. But if you learn some phrases each year and build upon them, eventually you will be able to carry out some simple conversations and improve your confidence. This will expand your kete and improve your interactions with students and families. 

Te Papa and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples have created online resources for Tonga(external link), Cook Island(external link) and Sāmoa(external link) language weeks that can be used year-round. 

Celebrating Tongan language

Providing rich educational language and cultural experiences for young Pacific students is important for the future, says Siale Faitotonu, who is one of three Tongan language tutors at Christchurch Boys’ High School. He is also chairman of Kahoa Tauleva Christchurch Trust, which runs a homework centre for Year 3–8 Tongan students at Turanga, Christchurch Public Library.

With about 4000 Tongans living in Christchurch, Siale is thrilled to also be involved in teaching 54 students from schools throughout the city who attend an after-school class for NCEA Levels 1–3 Tongan at Christchurch Boys’ High School.

Due to Covid-19, the normal community events for Tonga Language Week went online.  Christchurch’s Tongan language class at Christchurch Boys’ High School celebrated with Tongan delicacies provided by the community and cultural performance activities.

“Normally, the language week events are organised by youth from the different churches and organisations around Christchurch. The reason is that they are the future of the community,” says Siale.

Student talanoa

Education Gazette asked some of the NCEA students about the importance of language and identity. This is what they said: 

Languages give meaning and variations of different perspectives. They enrich the way we see the world. The Tongan language is our identity and brings us meaning. Esmarelda, Middleton Grange School

Language weeks keep the language and traditions alive. They show diversity in New Zealand. Language is an important part of our identity because we need to make everyone equal so we can disarm any racism or inequality. Anfernee, Christchurch Boys’ High School

Language weeks are important so we can embrace our culture and our love for it. Tongan language is where we come from and one of the main components of our identity. Melelupe, Middleton Grange School

See ‘Language weeks can create culture of acceptance(external link)’, Issue 17, 2019.

Celebrating New Zealand Sign Language  in our schools

NZ Sign Language weekThe 2020 New Zealand Sign Language Awards recognised the commitments to New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) made by a secondary school and an early learning centre.

Since 2015, Freyberg High School has offered its students the opportunity to learn NZSL for all five years of high school. The Palmerston North school’s long-term commitment to including NZSL in the curriculum from Year 9 to Year 13 was acknowledged at the 2020 New Zealand Sign Language Awards, recently held by Deaf Aotearoa.

The awards featured a number of categories including employer, media and education. Freyberg High School took home the NZSL in Schools award.

The school was nominated by one of its students, who described NZSL as “a great gateway for many learners”.

“This is key for the inclusion for Deaf and hard of hearing, here in New Zealand. Having as much education of this language as possible is key for the communication of many New Zealanders.”

St Kilda Kindergarten in Dunedin also featured in the awards, winning the NZSL in Early Childhood award for its commitment to supporting their staff to learn NZSL and ensuring an inclusive environment for Deaf children and their families.

The person who nominated St Kilda referenced the “amazing, great attitude” of the kindergarten’s teachers, outlining their willingness to learn NZSL by attending night classes and then putting it into practice with the children.

Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Lachlan Keating is pleased to see schools and early learning centres supporting NZSL.Kid outside

“Deaf Aotearoa is really pleased to again have the support of the Ministry of Education in awarding these two awards. It is pleasing to see both a school and an early childhood centre from smaller centres in Palmerston North and Dunedin be recognised for their work in championing NZSL.” 

New Zealand Sign Language Week

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is an official and unique language of New Zealand. It is the language of New Zealand’s Deaf community. Like other signed languages, NZSL uses the hands, the body, and facial expressions to express meaning. NZSL has its own grammatical structure and ways of expressing ideas. 

New Zealand Sign Language Week will be held on 21–27 September, coinciding with the International Week of the Deaf and the United Nations International Day of Sign Languages held on 23 September.

By learning NZSL, hearing students are able to communicate with their Deaf peers and participate in the Deaf community.

Courses and resources

Deaf Aotearoa offers resources for NZSL week and access to NZSL taster classes. This year they will also offer online taster class resources developed for  school-aged children 5–8 years. This  offering includes short instructional videos for daily use by students and teachers over a four-week period.

Content focuses on the NZSL signs for commonly used classroom related language.

These resources will be made available on the Deaf Aotearoa website(external link).

Information, curriculum resources and activities relating to NZSL Week 2020 are also available on the TKI site(external link).

See ‘Student-led signing club creates inclusion(external link)’, Issue 7, 2019

Hindi language in schools

There are more than 155,000 Indian New Zealanders, and the Hindi Language and Culture Trust of New Zealand is keen to see more Hindi taught in schools.

According to Trust president Satya Dutt, the 2018 StatsNZ census(external link) revealed that Hindi was the fifth most spoken language in New Zealand. With 10 percent of the total Indian population, Auckland has the largest Hindi-speaking population.  

Three potential clusters of schools for the potential teaching and learning of Hindi have been identified: Flatbush, Papatoetoe and Mt Roskill.Colour festival

National Hindi Language Week has been held in New Zealand by the Trust since 2009 and includes:

  • School-based language week programme: resources incorporating Māori, Samoan, English and Tongan sent to schools to make connections across New Zealand’s major languages.
  • National Hindi Speech Competition for primary to high school students. 
  • Cultural Evening at Papatoetoe High School for primary, intermediate and high school students. Between 300 and 500 people participate every year.
  • U15 National Diwali Speech Competition: a leading Hindi radio station, Radio Apna 990, presents the competition on air. 

Upcoming language weeks

  • 6–12 September: Tonga Language Week
  • 14–20 September: Te Wiki o te Reo Māori
  • 20–26 September: New Zealand Chinese Week 
  • 21–27 September: New Zealand Sign Language Week 
  • 27 September – 3 October: Tuvalu Language Week
  • 4–10 October: Fiji Language Week
  • 18–24 October: Niue Language Week
  • 19–24 October: Hindi Language Week
  • 25–31 October: Tokelau Language Week

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:07 AM, 18 September 2020

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