Nourishing Asia-related cultural and language skills

Issue: Volume 97, Number 15

Posted: 27 August 2018
Reference #: 1H9kEH

Hindi is the fourth most-spoken language in New Zealand, but some members of the Indian community are concerned that young Kiwi-Indians are losing their heritage language.

A Kathak dancer performing a traditional Indian dance for students at South Wellington Intermediate School.

Research released by the Asia New Zealand Foundation found the biggest challenge among children of Asian ethnicity under five years of age is maintaining their heritage language fluency.

The report Starting Strong: Nurturing the potential of our Asian under-fives published last year finds there is a significant demographic shift underway in New Zealand’s under-five population.

The research says 18 percent of all New Zealand children under five are of Asian ethnicity. This is projected to rise to 22 per cent by 2028. Nine out of 10 of these children are born in New Zealand.

Hindi is the third most-spoken language among Asian under-fives after English and Sinitic (which includes Northern Chinese and Mandarin).

The report says parents of these Asian under-fives observe that, after their children start school, English becomes the main language at home and the heritage language is used less often.

Another piece of research by the Foundation – ‘Losing Momentum: School Leavers Asia Engagement’ ­– found that the proportion of senior secondary students learning an Asian language has decreased, as has the reported proportion of students with knowledge about Asia.

The research, which surveyed just over 1,000 senior secondary students from around New Zealand, showed only eight per cent of students are ‘Asia-ready’. The survey measured students’ levels of Asia awareness by asking a number of questions about the perceived importance of Asia to New Zealand, cultural competencies and knowledge of Asia.

Kiwi students have a go at traditional Indian puppetry during a Diwali Festival outreach visit to schools.

Fewer than four in 10 believed having Asia-related skills and knowledge would be important for New Zealand’s future workforce.

The Foundation’s acting Education Director Sean O’Connor says: “If we connect the dots, we see on one end children entering our school system with a head start, bringing with them a level of Asia competence in terms of having cultural knowledge and language skills – some are bilingual and others multi-lingual. We need to ensure the cultural and language skills not just of Kiwi-Indians but also of other New Zealanders of Asian ethnicity are nourished, not lost.

“On the other end, we see the trend lines going in the wrong direction, with school leavers exiting our education system with only a small proportion being ‘Asia-ready’ and most of them thinking Asia-relevant skills won’t be relevant for their future, which is counterintuitive,” says Sean.

New Zealand has strong economic, social and cultural ties to Asia. Economically, 11 of New Zealand’s top 20 trading partners are now in Asia. Socially, census data shows nearly one in four people living in Auckland identifies with one or more Asian ethnic groups. It is projected that by 2038 that statistic will be one in three Aucklanders.

Sean says that recognising the benefits of having children with diverse language and cultures growing up in New Zealand is an important step.

“We need to signal to these young people and to their parents that we need those Asia-relevant skills, especially given Asia’s growing relevance to New Zealand,” Sean says.

As part of this year’s Hindi Language Week celebrations, the Hindi Language and Culture Trust of New Zealand has organised a series of activities, including a cultural evening and a speech competition. The Trust has also produced resources that schools can use in teaching Hindi to their students.

For more information on how to access these resources, contact

The Foundation(external link) has developed resources for teachers to help them teach their students about India. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:53 am, 27 August 2018

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