The case for New Zealanders being multi-lingual


Ichi, nii, san, shi… (One, two, three, four)

Said my Japanese teacher on the first day of learning the language at Burnside High, before asking us if any one knew what he was saying. Whilst fascinating, I found it far too hard and in retrospect should have taken German or Maori. With its three different sets of symbols (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji), which someone told me total over 1900 characters between them, I should have realized it was beyond me. However, at the time I was bent on becoming a volcanologist, and as Japan has many volcanoes it seemed to make sense to me that I should learn their language. About the only thing I can do now in Japanese, aside from counting from 1-99 is spell my name.

Despite failing in Japanese, it set motion an interest that continues to this day. I have to confess that one of my biggest regrets, which I do intend eventually addressing is not being able to speak fluently in a second language. I know people from Sweden who can speak English, Swedish, German and French. One friend in particular is able to write English better than many New Zealanders I know – her grammar is flawless.

At my work in a rental car service yard at this time we have German temps working for us. Their English is good enough that we can joke with them and have fairly fluent conversations, and they have told myself and my colleagues that it is useful practice for them in perfecting technical aspects of the English language.

In New Zealand, a country reliant on tourists who speak all manner of languages, it is essential that we learn a few basic phrases from the languages of the nationalities that visit here most frequently where English is not prevalent. German and French national’s are the most likely to work in our Wash Bay in terms of those I am likely to meet on work visa’s here in New Zealand. However Chinese tourists are the most likely people one will meet on New Zealand roads in February and early March, due to the Chinese New Year. Other than “Ni Hao”, I do not know a single word of Chinese.

These experiences, and others including doing papers in Geography that looked at aspects of environmental management from an indigenous (Maori)perspective, gave me a new appreciation for an age old debating topic. For there was a time when learning Te Reo was frowned upon. This is why making Te Reo compulsory for all New Zealanders, starting in primary school should be compulsory. And aside from the fact that it is an official language of New Zealand, the early learning of it, will be a useful way for a student to determine whether they like the idea of becoming multi-lingual later on in life.

Go, roku, nana, hachi…. (Five, six, seven, eight)

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