Sustainable Learning Languages Programmes

He taonga nga reo katoa
All languages are to be treasured

There are many factors leading to a sustainable language programme in schools. Learning Languages is one of 8 learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum.


The Curriculum states:

"Learning a new language provides a means of communicating with people from another culture and exploring one’s own personal world.

Languages are inseparably linked to the social and cultural contexts in which they are used. Languages and cultures play a key role in developing our personal, group, national, and human identities.

Every language has its own ways of expressing meanings; each has intrinsic value and special significance for its users."

Find out more in the sections below.

Are you a teacher or school leader interested in improving the sustainability of your Language Learning programme? 

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Challenges for Languages Curriculum
Factors for success
What can schools do?

Maintaining this Learning Area and keeping it viable in New Zealand schools requires particular attention.  

The Learning Languages Review and Maintenance Programme Literature Review published in May 2017 (p.27), identified the following challenges:


  1. The low prioritisation of languages in a largely monolingual culture. 
  2. Mixed policy signals about the importance of languages in the overall curriculum. 
  3. Need for sustained learning over a number of years. 
  4. Low prioritisation in school timetables where subjects compete for space in a crowded curriculum. 
  5. Provision of teachers with appropriate expertise and their ongoing professional development and training. 
  6. Provision of classroom resources including IT equipment for accessing target language communities and opportunities, as well as for assessment purposes. 


These issues require a range of measures to improve the sustainability of the Learning Languages Area.

Factors leading to success in Learning Languages:

Time in the form of:

  • Quantity and quality

  • Frequency of lessons
  • Regularity of lessons

Leadership valuing languages including:

  • Head of Languages
  • Executive
  • Principal


  • Classrooms
  • Staffrooms
  • Dedicated language space

Teachers who are:

  • Passionate
  • Skilled
  • Dedicated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Developing a rapport
  • Making meaning relevant

Sufficient resourcing through:

  • Equipment
  • Buildings
  • Technology
  • Texts and resources

Whole school valuing language learning through:

  • Physical space
  • Timetabling
  • Budgetary support
  • Being vocal about languages being an important cornerstone of education
  • Mandating language learning beyond the 100 hours
  • Setting an expectation of a commitment to language learning
  • Supporting small classes
  • Funding excursions
  • Supporting exchange programmes
  • Supporting teacher professional learning

From: Exploring Effective and Sustainable language programs in NSW Independent schools. Dr Ruth Fielding, University of Canberra, 2014

What can schools do to make Languages more sustainable?

Classroom practice:

  • Teaching methods and strategies are level and age appropriate
  • 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

Schoolwide support:

  • Commitment to adequate and equitable distribution of resources for the programme
  • 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
  • Clear rationale, purpose and clearly defined outcomes that are made obvious to all key stakeholders including students and parents

Inter-school support:

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

From: Simpson Norris International (2001, 39)