Language: the nutrition of life

Language is a necessity. It is our passport to each other and our world.

As this world becomes smaller and more accessible with each technological development, language becomes more than simply a tool for effective communication.

It becomes the key to the door of cultural acceptance and understanding.

New Zealand, a land of endless cultures and colours, can no longer rest upon the groaning support of the lonely English language.

Learning to communicate with others can no longer be regarded as the frill on the edge of New Zealand's education system.

Compulsory language learning is vital in maintaining our standing in the world.

''Oh, a bit of a smartypants, are you?'' is the typical Kiwi response when someone finds out that you learn German at school.

It's seen as academically exclusive, only to be attempted by the most studious of pupils.

Language classes are the smallest in our schools.

Often pupils are held back from realising their linguistic potential until the senior school.

At this point, learning to say ''I like to play soccer. What is your favourite colour?'' is no longer an exciting activity.

We are missing the best learning years by delaying language acquisition.

New Zealanders ''snob'' language learning with excuses of distance and irrelevance.

Contrast this with that of other countries.

In England, reforms are proposed to make foreign language learning compulsory for all pupils from 7 years old.

Within the European Union, close to 100% of pupils learn English at primary school, of whom 94.6% continue with foreign languages at secondary school.

This is indicative of the increasing realisation that a country with an abundance of linguistically educated workers is a country whose voices can extend further into the world.

Horizons are widened, more conferences are accessible, more business contacts are made.

Meanwhile, New Zealand insists on living in a one language world, with a lack of empathy.

Individuals are given a social and an economic edge.

They enjoy enhanced listening and speaking skills from a young age, becoming more respectful of difference and with an added boost as they prepare to enter an extremely selective workforce.

Developing your foreign vernacular even has medical benefits.

A recent study showed the onset of Alzheimers can be delayed by up to four years.

In our quiet backwater, we have suffered in the past from separation, but now the internet is allowing us to connect with the linguistic reality of the world, without having to travel.

Distance is no longer an excuse.

It is often felt that learning another language is a waste in a country which often struggles to bring its lower achievers up to the bar in English literacy. Yet learning new ways of expressing yourself actually builds upon a child's mother language skills.

In fact, not offering languages in primary schools could be seen as detrimental to a child's wider education.

Children getting a better education means the country getting a better future.

The world is becoming increasingly open.

We must keep up with all the opportunities presented.

Language is the nutrition of life and children need constant ''brain feeding''.

So come on, New Zealand. It's time to vamp up our vernacular.


• By Caitlin Spence, Year 12, Kavanagh College



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