Learning another tongue should be compulsory in New Zealand schools if languages are to stop being the "poor cousin" within the education system, an academic says.
Dr Adele Scott surveyed more than 300 language teachers in primary and secondary schools as part of her PhD thesis.
Many of those teachers felt devalued and the choice and level of language often came down to the whim of the principal or board of trustees.
Another finding was that primary teachers rarely choose to teach a language, and some that know another language are required to teach a different one. In secondary schools, teachers sometimes are forced to teach combined levels in one class.
"Languages are the poor cousin in the school system - they often don't have a voice," said Dr Scott, a former Japanese and French teacher at New Plymouth Boys' High School and senior lecturer in teacher education at Massey University.
"The main reason is that the languages are the only non-compulsory learning area."
There was a general lack of understanding in the wider community about the value of learning other languages, Dr Scott said.
Some of that could be traced to people's memories of learning French, Latin or German decades ago.
"Some of the ways we studied then was we didn't talk in class and we didn't have conversations.
"Some people may say, 'I can't remember any of my words anyway'."
Dr Scott said broader benefits go far beyond language skills, including learning empathy for other people and ways of doing things, critical thinking and reflection.
Numerous studies have suggested that being bilingual can have positive effects on the brain, including improving reading, verbal ability and intelligence and delaying the onset of dementia.
"When you have more than one language at your disposal your personality actually changes when you use it," Dr Scott said.
Dr Scott is currently working with schools to bid for the contestable $10 million fund for the Asian Language Learning in Schools project, announced by Education Minister Hekia Parata in August.
She praised that initiative, but said more work was needed, including a review of a qualifications "anomaly" that means learning another language (except Latin and Te Reo) doesn't count towards NCEA Level 1 and 2 literacy credits.
Literacy credits can be gained through a wide variety of other subjects, including health and agriculture.
Dr Scott said that should be the case for languages.
However, a more important move was to make learning another language compulsory from Year 1 to Year 10, she said.
Dr Graham Stoop, the Ministry of Education's deputy secretary of student achievement, said it recognised the benefits of learning a second or subsequent language.
"For this reason, the Ministry supports schools and teachers by providing a range of curriculum resources and professional learning and development."
Shining a light on the Chinese culture
Mac Jordan now likes to think in Chinese but studying Mandarin was not something he wanted to do until starting at Westlake Boys' High School.
Taking a language (Chinese, French, German, Japanese or Te Reo Maori) is compulsory for all Year 9 students at the North Shore school.
Mr Jordan, 18, found he liked the subject and process behind learning a new language and has stuck with it.
He will study psychology at university next year but will continue to work on his Chinese, possibly through social conversation groups.
Learning Chinese was a gradual process and it was important not to fear failure, Mr Jordan said, and to accept mistakes as necessary.
He had a greater understanding of the political and economic undertone of Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent New Zealand visit than he would have had without having studied the language.
"It really isn't just about speaking - it is a concept of sociology, anthropology etcetera."
Tina Kwok, head of Westlake's languages faculty, said when a language was made compulsory in 2010 there was some resistance from parents.
"They still think, 'My son needs to do three sciences to become a doctor', or 'He needs to do economics to get into business'." Ms Kwok sends out an email to parents at the beginning of each year arguing the case for learning another language.
"The nature of learning a language just crosses over and touches on so many different learning areas. It's not just about fluency, we learn about history, geography, cultures of other countries as well."