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TALKING POINT Learning a secondlanguage fuels children's intelligence and makes their job pros pects brighter.

But the fact is, in New Zealand, asin manyotherEnglish-speakingcountri es, speakers of two or morelanguages are in the minority.Eighty-four per cent of New Zealanders are monolingual(speakers of only one language). This leaves a small numberwho cl aim to speak two or morelanguages - a small percentage of whom wereborn in New Zealand. Nomatter how proud people are of their cultural roots, to speak anything otherth an English is a marker of differencehere.That's why eight-year-old Tiffany Dvorak nolonger wishes to speak her mother-tongue,German, and eight-year-old Ani Powell is embarrassed when people comment onthe fact that she is able to speak Maori*. AsJoannePowell,Ani's mother,points out: 'In Europe, it's not unusual for kids to bebilingual. But, if you speak anotherlanguage to your children in New Zealand, there are some people who think that you are not helpingthem to become a memberof society.' But in fact, the generalagreement among expertsis that learning a secondlanguage is goodfor children. Expertsbelieve that bilinguals - people who speak two language s - have a clearlearning advantage over their monolingualschoolmates. This depends onhow muchof eachlanguage they can speak, not onwhich language is used, soit doesn'tma tter whetherthey are learning Maorior Germanor Chinese or any otherlanguage. Cathie Elder, a professor of LanguageTeaching and Learning at Auckland Universit y,says: 'A lot of studies haveshown that children who speak morethan one language someti mes learn one language moreslowly, but in the end they doaswell astheir monolingual schoolmates, and oftenbetter, in othersubjects. The view is that there is animpr ovement in generalintelligence from the effortof learning anotherlanguage.' DrBrigitte Halford,a professor of linguistics at Freiburg Universityin Germany,a grees. 'Bilinguals tend to use language better asa whole,' she says. 'They also display greater creativity and problem-solving ability, and they learn further languages moreeas ily.' Sowith all of the benefits, why dowenot show moreenthusiasm for learning other languages? Parentsand teachers involved in bilingual educationsay pressure from friends at school, generalattitudes to otherlanguages in English-speakingcountries,and p roblems in the school system are to blame. In New Zealand, immigrants face the possibility of culture being lost along with the language their children nolonger wish to speak. Tiffany's mother,Susanne Dvorak,has exper ienced this. Whenshe and husband Dieter left Germany sixyears ago to start upa new life in New Zealand, they thought it would bethe perfect opportunity to raise their two-year -old asa bilingual. After all, bilingual Turkishfamilies in Germany werenormal and Susann e had read

all the books she could find onthe subject. The idea was to havehome asa German language environmentand for Tiffany to learn Englishat nurseryschool. But whenTiffany wentto nurseryschool she stopped talkin g completely. She was quietfor about two or three months.Then, whenshe took uptalk ing again, it was only in English. Concerned for her language development, Dieter st arted speaking Englishto his daughter whileSusanne continuedin German. Today, whenSusanne speaks to her daughter in German, she still answers in Englis h. 'Or sometimes she speaks half and half. I checked with her teacher and she very seldom mixesupGerman and Englishat school. She speaks Englishlike a New Zealander. It's her German that's behind,' says Susanne. ProfessorHalford,alsoa mother of two bilingual children, says, 'It's normal for kids to refuse to speak their home language at the stage whenthey start to socialise with other kids in kindergarten or school'. But, she says, this depends a lot onthe attitudes of th e societies in question. In monolingualsocieties, like New Zealand, 'kids wantto belike all the others and sometimes use bilingualism asone of the battlefields for finding their own ident ity in contrast to that of their parents.' She supports Susanne's approach of not pressuring her daughter. 'Never force the child to use a specificlanguage, just keepusing it yourself. The child willaccept that. T here is often a time whenchildren or teenagers willneedto establish their own identity asdiffe rent from their schoolmates and they may use their otherlanguage to doso.' Cathie Elderthinks immigrant parentsshould only speak Englishto their children i f they are able to use Englishwell themselves. 'What parentsshould dois providerich lan guage experiencesfor their children in whatever language they speak well. Theymay feel like outsiders and wantto speak the local language, but it is moreimportant for the c hild's language development to providea lot of language experience in any language.' There can bedifferences between children in attitudes to learning languages. Sus anne Dvorak's two-year-old son, Danyon, is alreadyshowing signs of speaking German an d Englishequallywell. Whileher 'ideal' scenario hasn't happenedwith Tiffany,she is aware that her daughter has a certain bilingual ability which, although mainly passive at this stage, may develop later on. JoannePowell feels the same way about her daughter, Ani. 'At the momentshe may n ot wantto speak Maoribut that's okaybecause she'llpick it upagain in her own time. It's more important that she has the ability to understand who she is. Bylearning anotherl anguage she can openthe door to anotherculture.' Donna Chan, 25, a marketingspecialist for IBM, arrived here with her parentsfrom

Hong Kongwhenshe was four. She also remembers refusing to speak Chinese whenshe start ed primaryschool. But now she appreciates she had the chanceto bebilingual. 'It's q uite beneficial speaking anotherlanguage in myjob. Last year, mycompany sent meto a t rade fair in HongKongbecause I could speak Chinese. Being bilingual definitely opens doors,' she says.