Last year I attended (with Ken) the Chinese in Secondary Schools Conference in Auckland. It was a rather large and impressive event, with an excellent turnout from principals especially. While the day was perhaps a little too presentation focused it did raise the issue of why the study of Chinese, and more broadly Asian languages, are important for NZ now, and into the future. The Asian language imperative was raised a few times, and interestingly it goes beyond just the economic imperative, into cultural and social changes. Our White paper highlights some of the major reasons…

The development of Asian Learning Language programmes across the NZ schooling system is highly desirable, if not essential to New Zealand’s economics and social well-being. Existing and emerging Asian economies are becoming increasingly significant trading partners, while domestically the numbers of new immigrants from asian countries is rising. These new NZ citizens bring with them language and cultural background which will enrich NZ society – if this new diversity is nurtured and celebrated. Asian Language Learning programmes can play a vital role in the retention of the language and culture of these asian communities.

In an increasingly interconnected and shrinking ‘global village’, the impact of Asia on New Zealand will be profound. To successfully participate in this emerging, rapidly changing world, all young New Zealanders will need a new set of ‘internationally focussed’ skills, knowledge and dispositions. This will include the abilities to speak other languages, and a cultural awareness and understanding of differing ethnic communities. Being able to communicate in an Asian language (with a cultural understand) will be a significant advantage for young New Zealander, in an increasing Asia-focussed world.

Government funding of the ALLiS programme is a very welcome initiative which will significantly assist the development of Asian Language Learning in some New Zealand school. However, this funding needs to be considered a valuable ‘first step’ in a more sustained development of asian language and culture programme across the whole NZ schooling system.

My involvement in our ALLIS project has really raised the issue on a more personal level. I have two young boys, ten and seven who will be living in this world. At the moment they have had very little exposure to languages in their schools, let alone Asian languages. As a parent I see the absolute necessity of them learning one or two languages, and in particular at least one Asian language. Many parents will see the changing world around them, they see the importance of Asia in our economy, but often when it comes to thinking about this within education it fails to fit into what they consider as absolutely important for their child’s education. The same would be true of students themselves.

Part of the problem (and this was widely recognised at the conference) is how we engage learners in languages, especially at the senior level. We tend to focus on learning a language, and then providing some context within that, but perhaps it needs to be the other way around. Engage learners in the context, i.e. exploring the culture and then learning the language as part of that. So rather than Chinese (Mandarin) as a course we need to think more about Chinese Studies where a more integrated approach is taken and the authentic context easily provided. In that way we may engage a wider range of learners in learning the language itself.

As part of ALLIS, NetNZ is now offering Japanese, Chinese, and Korean at all levels, including beginners. We have also been provisionally accepted (although it needs some serious scoping work to get full funding) in Bahasa Indonesian, Hindi and Filipino. The viability of the next round of languages and the sustainabilit of our current provision really does depend on whether schools understand the moral imperative and whether the demand is therefore there. One of the beauties of online learning is the reach you can get. We can provide these programmes for our own schools, who often will not have the staffing or expertise to run them themselves. This means no learner misses out. And this provision can potentially go much wider if the space and demand is there.

And online learning should not be seen as a last resort for students. . Most would agree that being immersed and living in a country is the best way to learn a language. How could this look online? The potential to create a ‘connected’ approach to curriculum design and learning is often far greater than a face to face course. Once learning is online there a few barriers to who or what you bring into that space. Not only can you connect learners, but you can also connect them directly with the culture and the people. The latter being the prime opportunity for online learning.