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Knowing a Pasifika language is not a barrier to being successful in English-medium schooling. Teachers who value and share the languages that Pasifika students bring with them into the classroom and deliberately build their English language skills help their Pasifika students to succeed.


Key content

Teachers find ways to value the languages that their Pasifika students bring with them into the classroom, integrating them into their own knowledge and classroom teaching. In turn, they teach their Pasifika students the kinds of English language that they need to help them progress their learning. Uneven patterns of achievement in the early years of schooling may occur for those students with a Pasifika language or both a Pasifika and English language background, yet recent research evidence indicates that being bilingual is not a barrier to the academic achievement of Pasifika learners. Newly arrived students benefit from explicit induction and support so that they can develop the knowledge and skills that schooling in New Zealand requires.

“But from the middle and upper primary and into the secondary years the sense is that bilingualism may (under important conditions not tested here, such as level of bilingualism) lead to similar outcomes (as having a strong English-only status), and in a wider sense confer other advantages”. 
Ua Aoina le Manogi o le Lolo: Pasifika Schooling Improvement Research – Final Report, page ix


Thanks to the principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contribution.

Things to think about

  • Do you expect your Pasifika students to use suitable academic language in English? What do you do to support their learning? How do you reward them for their efforts?
  • What support does your school offer to Pasifika students who are more comfortable with using their Pasifika language in class? How does this support help their learning?
  • What is your school’s attitude towards Pasifika students using their home languages in class? Are you supportive of this? If so, why? If not, why not? What would you prefer to see happen?
  • What specific strategies do you use to develop in your Pasifika students the English language skills that they need for them to progress their learning? Are they effective? How do you know?
  • What steps have you taken to engage with the languages and cultures of your Pasifika learners? How would your Pasifika students know that you have taken an interest in these?


Merita Amani-Heisifa
I try to use our first language and then they make that connection with the English. Especially in math because the numbers in Samoan is how you say it, but in English it's different. The non-Samoan or Tongan speaking teachers would get another child to interpret for the other one they buddy up. So that 's another good way of helping that other child with the language. Children who do come in with their first language have a lot to offer, it's just making that connection with the English language.

ACTUALITY – Merita with students

Don Biltcliffe
I celebrate the children in my class who are bilingual. That gives them a little bit of mana, that gives them a little bit of self-esteem, they feel quite proud of themselves. I ask them to teach me words and phrases and we use them in our assemblies when my class present, we use them in our classroom everyday.

Jacqueline Yates
I have a young teacher aide - Donna. She is Samoan and she is fluent in speaking Samoan. I have children who come into my class who don’t speak English, mainly Samoan children. I feel as though the best way to teach children English is to start with their own language first, so Donna is constantly speaking to them in Samoan, translating what I’ve just said, and I also speak a little bit of Samoan. I’ve got my own Samoan little kiddie booklet that I try; I’m trying to learn it as well. But Donna’s there. They love her. They go to her. They trust her. As soon as she speaks something in Samoan you can see something clicks. They understand.

Moyeen McCoy
Some of the most important things that I have to remember when I'm teaching our Pasifika students, maybe the first thing that I would think of naturally would be the matter of vocabulary. Today I'll be teaching how to answer an exam question which is a pretty scary thing, so the first thing I will do is I will look at vocabulary and I'll look at a way into the question because I have to demystify a lot of the language and phrasing that is used in the formal situation of the examination which students have to deal with. Vocabulary is very very important for our students; they really stumble over quite a lot of common words that you would expect that they would know. I also have to make a pathway through a task.

ACTUALITY – Moyeen with students