Manukau is looking to turn its multiculturalism to its advantage as a "centre of language excellence".
Roughly one in three (31 per cent) of Manukau residents in last year's Census could speak more than one language - almost twice the national average of 17.5 per cent.
A Manukau education conference, which began yesterday, is considering a proposal by the city's Pacific Islands Advisory Committee to actively encourage bilingualism.
But schools running bilingual classes say they are frustrated by a shortage of trained teachers and resources in Pacific languages.
The Pacific committee suggests in a "vision statement" that bilingual schools and units would be "commonplace" in the Manukau of the future.
"Policy would encourage academics and educationalists to see Manukau as the centre of educational excellence for Pacific people," it says.
"This will have an economic as well as educational benefit for Pacific people in Manukau, who could be trained and then employed as teachers, experts or researchers."
A report for this weekend's conference says Manukau has a special role in maintaining the languages of three island groups whose people have New Zealand citizenship and whose population mostly now lives in this country.
"Ninety-one per cent of Niueans, 83 per cent of Tokelauans and 73 per cent of Cook Islanders live in New Zealand. Their languages are at risk of becoming extinct," it says.
Almost half of New Zealand speakers of both Cook Islands Maori and Niuean, and about a tenth of New Zealand speakers of Tokelauan, live in Manukau. The city also has 37 per cent of the country's Samoan speakers.
At Otara's Yendarra Primary School, even NZ-born students in the Years 5 and 6 Samoan bilingual class say they enjoy being in the class so they can speak the language their parents use at home. Almost half the school's 400 pupils are Samoan.
"I like speaking in Samoan," said Ronayne Paea, 10.
"I like coming to this class because we can ... work in and talk about things in both languages [Samoan and English]," said Linda Tiatia, also 10.
Principal Susan Dunlop said children who learned Samoan at home often struggled with aspects of English such as reading, but "as soon as you put it into their own language they just fly ahead".
"Our second-language children don't see it as being particularly difficult. We say they are blessed with bilingual brains and it's a gift we like to nurture," she said.
But she said there was unsatisfied demand from parents to get their children into the three bilingual classes. A full-immersion Samoan class for new entrants had to be scrapped after a teacher went to Australia last year, although it will begin again next year.
Deputy principal Sia Talataina said the Samoan teachers also had to create many of their own resources, such as song charts and cards for numbers, reading and poems.
Mrs Talataina's dream was for local intermediate and high schools to offer bilingual classes so Samoan students could keep up the language.
The acting principal of Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate's senior school, Sue Milnes, said her school now offered bilingual classes in Cook Islands Maori, Tongan, Samoan and NZ Maori. But this is unusual. "The difficulty with Cook Islands Maori is that ... it's very hard to get teachers."
Mangere College, which has the city's highest proportions of high-school-age Cook Islands Maori (20 per cent) and Niueans (9 per cent), offers Samoan to its large Samoan roll (39 per cent) but no other Pacific languages.