Sustainable Learning Languages Programmes


The New Zealand Curriculum framework promotes Learning Languages as an area of the curriculum that is important to the country’s health and growth.

All students benefit from learning another language from the earliest practicable age. Such learning broadens students’ general language abilities and brings their own language into sharper focus. It enriches them intellectually, socially and culturally, offers an understanding of the ways in which other people think and behave, and furthers international relations and trade. (The New Zealand Curriculum Framework, 1993: 10)

Despite the clear benefits for learning a foreign language, research indicates that very few New Zealanders who speak English as a first language are fluent in another language (Waite, 1992). The world is changing rapidly and it has become important for people who speak different languages to improve understanding and communication. New Zealand’s ‘economic future will be determined by interactions with the rest of the world’. (Leadership Statement for International Education, 2011) and it has become increasingly important for its people to be equipped with international capabilities. Sustainable language learning programmes within schools are one of the most effective ways in which international capabilities can be developed (International Capabilities Report, 2014).

Although many schools around New Zealand now offer a foreign language programme from Year 7, many of these programmes are not sustainable. In some schools, foreign language programmes are offered as ‘taster’ or ‘elective’ courses where students learn a different language each term. A growing number of teachers have composite classes where they teach multiple levels and/or languages in one class. Some teachers report that they feel their learning area is not valued as their language classes are cancelled to make space for sports events or other priorities. More than x% of students learn a language for less than 30 hours per year. This equates to x hours per week. A sobering thought, when we know that it takes approximately x hours to become proficient in another language. As a result of these factors, New Zealand students who are learning a foreign language may not feel motivated to continue with language learning and may not achieve a level of proficiency to meaningfully use the language once they leave school.

Are you a teacher or school leader and interested in improving the sustainability of your language learning programme? 

Contact us to find out more about the support we can offer you


Morgan Patterson
Acting Pathway Manager

P: 09 623 8899 ext 48 229



Eight key elements of a sustainable language learning programme:

  • Clear rationale, purpose and clearly defined outcomes that are made obvious to all key stakeholders including students and parents;

  • Commitment to adequate and equitable distribution of resources for the programme;

  • Provision is made for continuity of language learning of a specific language from primary school to secondary school;

  • Teaching methods and strategies are level and age appropriate;

  • Incorporation of the language learning programme into the life of the school and the community and genuine pride and ownership of the programme by the community;

  • Language learning programme teachers are treated as real and valued members of the staff and have the same status and profile as other learning areas;

  • Teaching quality is high – the teacher is committed to the school and its programme, speaks the language confidently, is able to teach and engage the learners, is comfortable with the students and puts them at ease; Students are engaged and motivated to continue their language learning.

Simpson Norris International (2001, 39)


The ILEP professional development pathway depicts sustainability as the element which surrounds all other aspects of teacher professional development.