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Sir Don McKinnon has called on parents and teachers to “do our nation a great favour” by pushing young Kiwis into learning a second language.
Speaking at a Latin America New Zealand Business Council lunch in Auckland recently, Sir Don emphasised the business benefits of developing a multi-lingual culture.
Sir Don, who is one of the council’s three patrons, said young people should select a language that appeals to them. 
“Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether a young person learns Spanish, Chinese, French or any other language,” he said, adding that demand for languages can fluctuate within a 20 to 30 year timeframe. 
Sir Don, who is also chair of the New Zealand China Council, said New Zealand has long been a very monolingual country. 
“We need a lot more young kids, those in secondary schools now, to be encouraged to take a language as a major course.”
He noted that people who have two languages have a great ability to learn a third. 
Sir Don was New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 1990 to 1999 and Deputy Prime Minister from 1990 to 1996. He served as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth until 2008.
His comments follow the recent release of a DHL Express NZ report showing half of Kiwi exporters face business challenges because of cultural or language barriers when exporting to a market that does not speak English.
According to the survey, 62 percent of exporters think it's important to speak the language of the market in which they operate but only 47 percent would consider actually learning that language.
Leading exporter Tony Nowell said recently at the Auckland rollout of New Zealand’s ASEAN Strategy that while it's good for exporters to know another language, it is “probably more useful and definitely much easier” to learn about the cultural characteristics of people in other markets. 
He said research pioneered by Geert Hofstede – much of it available online – is particularly useful for exporters wanting to understand why people act in certain ways.
Meanwhile, the Asia NZ Foundation is hosting a forum on Thursday 19 September to discuss the state of language learning in New Zealand.
Led by broadcaster Chris Laidlaw, the forum ‘Is English enough in the Asian century?’ is being held at the University of Waikato’s Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts (Te Whare Tapere Iti) in Hamilton.
By Ruth Le Pla. Email [email protected] 
Photo courtesy of Krissy Dwyer.
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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