Intermediate student learning fifth language

Issue: Volume 97, Number 20

Posted: 8 November 2018
Reference #: 1H9o2G

You might think that speaking or studying four languages would be enough for a student in intermediate school, but an Auckland student has proved he can handle more, so he’s started learning Korean as well.

At home, Jonathan Leiataua speaks Samoan with his family, plus English, and is also studying te reo Māori and Chinese at his Auckland school, which recently began offering Korean language classes.

“My parents wanted me to study other languages, and when I came home with a notice about the school starting classes in Korean, they urged me to do it,” he says.

“I have a dream to go around the world when I’m older, so learning different languages that people speak in different countries will help with that.” 

His learning path reflects the changing face of New Zealand, which is rapidly becoming increasingly diverse, culturally and linguistically. 

Henderson in west Auckland is one of the most diverse parts of the city, so the intermediate school’s students are from many different cultures. The largest cultural groups are Samoan and Māori but there are many other cultures represented at the school, ranging from Indian to Tuvaluan and Chinese. All the students learn Mandarin and te reo Māori.

Half the students speak two languages or more, and the curriculum reflects that. The New Zealand Curriculum identifies the importance of language for learning. It requires that all schools with students in years 7–10 should be working towards offering students opportunities for learning a second or subsequent language. All the languages represented by students have their own week of celebration each year and the school supports language acquisition and retention in many ways, along with the cultural and artistic expression that goes with it. 

So students get the chance to try Bollywood dancing (in Indian culture group) drumming (in Tongan culture group) and cooking dumplings (in Chinese classes), and many other things besides that are fun, interesting and rich with learning opportunities.

There’s strong support too from parents for language learning, particularly for Samoan and Māori language. The school has Māori and Samoan immersion units, and those classes are full – but so are the waiting lists. 

There is an emphasis on learning spoken Chinese so the children speak and discuss in authentic oral interactions with their teacher Pan Li, who is a native speaker from China.

Jonathan’s Chinese conversational skills came in handy last November when a group of exchange students from China came to the school, speaking little English. “On the day they arrived they were impressed that I could talk to them in their own language. That made me feel very proud, and it made them feel at home,” he says. 

By the time they leave intermediate, most are achieving at Level 2 in Chinese language. Their skill levels vary, but some go on to study it in secondary school and others are good enough to enter a national speech competition in the language. Last year two of the school’s students came third in the contest.

So, with all those languages rolling round inside his head, which one ranks first when he goes to sleep? “I dream in Samoan,” he says.

Benefits spread from language study

Henderson Intermediate Deputy Principal Debbie Wylde says language learning brings multiple benefits for students.

“We are helping our students become global citizens. They don’t just learn the language, they learn the culture. Language studies open up children’s minds to the wider world. We value having students share their own cultural identity, so we support and enable many forms of cultural expression including language.”  

Debbie says learning languages helps with other parts of the curriculum. “As emerging adolescents, it assists the students’ brains to make connections and explore new learning. It definitely impacts on their other studies.”

The key numbers

In Years 1–8 in New Zealand schools, there are 147,000 students studying an international language. 

For more information, visit Education Counts (external link) 


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:22 pm, 8 November 2018

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