Word cloudOver the past two decades New Zealand has become home to over 160 different languages, making it one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world (Spoonley & Bedford 2012), and that superdiversity is forecasted to increase even further (Statistic New Zealand 2013). And yet, little has been done at a national level to engage with the opportunities, and challenges, such linguistic diversity presents. The recent Lining up Language: Navigating Policy and Programmes conference organised by the Office of Ethnic Communities, and the current development of a Regional Languages Strategy by COMET Auckland may be signs that things are starting to change.

Hailed as the precursor to a national languages policy, Aoteareo: Speaking for Ourselves, a report published by the Ministry of Education in 1992, made the case for the implementation of a national decision-making system in the area of language issues, within a bicultural framework, by exploring ‘the benefits of adopting a policy to maintain, enrich and expand the diversity of languages used by New Zealanders’. Such a policy never came to fruition, and all language stakeholders – te reo Māori speakers and Māori communities, migrant communities, schoolchildren, adult learners, language service providers including translation and interpreting agencies, and their clients, central and local government, civil society organisations etc. – have operated in a vacuum, with patchy support and patchy results.

Table showing the ethnic make-up of Auckland
Auckland is a superdiverse city.

Many interested parties argue that the status quo is not a tenable solution, and that the time is ripe for some political leadership in this area. A number of subsidiary language initiatives have been developed to try and fill the vacuum, and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission published a draft national languages policy in 2010 calling for our political leaders to face up to the realities of our superdiverse society.

It is in this context that COMET Auckland was given the thumbs up by Auckland Council for its regional languages strategy. The draft strategy is available online for consultation, and you can download your submission form here to give your opinion. COMET CEO Susan Warren says that New Zealand urgently needs a national languages policy, and I certainly support efforts in this area. If implemented, the Auckland Languages Strategy might be a first step into that direction, and may potentially lead to a redefinition and a better understanding of the role of translation and interpreting in today’s society.