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Parents and bilingual learning

Parents are pleased with new approaches to bilingual learning. They see the advantages that children get from using both their languages.



For so long parents have been told that they should speak English at home, if they want their children to achieve academically, then they need to be promoting English in the home. Children need to leave their culture and part of who they are at the school gates, and merge into a palagi world when they come into school.


That was the old, conservative thinking. When I was in school we were being taught like that.


They’ve heard those messages for so long, and when someone has actually explicitly said no that’s wrong, at school we don’t believe those things.


Mele is a Tongan teacher aide. She regrets making her own children speak English only when they were growing up.


I think it’s something that I grew up with, from my own background, some kind of attitude that if you know how to speak English you are here. You are top of everybody else.  And I think that is one of the things that helped me to try and stop my children speak the mother tongue because they need to be able to speak English.  It is some kind of very old attitude among our Pacific Island people.  Until I came to the classroom  at first I was not knowing the right thing, but I’ve been here, I spent most of my learning time here, and then I started to see how comfortable the children are in learning in their own language.  Like, if I explain something to them they don’t understand, I use the mother tongue then they settle down. I just want our people to change their attitude.


I will give you an example of my own kids when we moved down here they were three and four.  They were bilinguals when we went down to Dunedin but they lost their language.  But they were very successful going through the system and people were jealous of me saying “Look, at your kids” and I’d say, “yeah, you’re fine, but you know what my kids are saying to me? Dad, we miss our first language.”  And then they came back to me and said, “I don’t want my kids to go with the same thing we went through.  I want my kids to go to a bilingual unit.”