Foreign language learning in primary schools looks likely to become commonplace for Kiwi kids with widespread political support for a private member's bill promoting second-language teaching from a young age.

Former education minister Nikki Kaye has won the support of current Education Minister Chris Hipkins and the Labour caucus, plus the Greens and Act, to progress her bill to select committee.

The bill is also likely to extend the provision of Māori language teaching in schools as well as foreign languages.

The bill requires the Government to set 10 priority languages - likely to include Mandarin, Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Pacific languages and possibly Hindi as well as official languages Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.

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It also requires the Government to resource the provision of those languages in primary and intermediate schools.

Schools would then consult their communities to decide which of the priority languages will be taught for Year 1 to 8. It could be more than one.

"Speaking more than one language has enormous cognitive, cultural, social and economic benefits so this bill is a big opportunity for our country," said Kaye.

She said the bill would also ensure universal access to te reo Māori as a result and more young people learning te reo.

"I think it should be very, very positive for iwi and Māori."

Kaye said a number of issues would need to be worked through at select committee.

"These include investing in workforce development to ensure we have the teachers and that adequate time is given for schools to implement this. I realise this could be phased in over a number of years."

The bill won't come up for its first reading vote until next year but she has had a commitment in writing from Labour, the Greens and Act that they will support it. New Zealand First is still considering it. Kaye was particularly complimentary about Hipkins.

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"He has been incredibly generous and understanding that while there may need to be some changes to the bill in the future, that he is supportive to send it to select committee."

Hipkins said there was real value in second-language learning.

"Kids who do a second language generally tend to do better in their first language," he said.

He welcomed the opportunity to have a discussion about what was taught in schools, including language learning, on a cross-party basis rather than being divided along party lines.

Hipkins said it should be seen as a long-term project.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins say the bill is part of a long-term project, not a short one. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Chris Hipkins say the bill is part of a long-term project, not a short one. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"It is not going to be something that any Government can deliver in three, six or even nine years. It is going to be something we are going to have to work on over a long period of time."

He said one of the areas of debate would be around the concept of priority languages, the role of Pacific languages, the focus on Asian languages in the context of economic partnerships and the traditional European languages which have taught for a long time.

"I'm not sure whether we should restrict down to a small list of priority languages but the bill gives us an opportunity to have that discussion."

The bill, titled the Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill, has been reworked from National Party policy going into the 2017 election campaign. At stage it was estimated to cost $40 million a year.

She said that the amount of language learning would be a core issue for the select committee but the original costings had been based on at least 40 hours a year or about an hour a week, but some school might want more and some would want less.

Kaye said that whatever restructuring occurred in the light of the Tomorrow's Schools Review, she hoped that boards of trustees would remain the group that determined which languages each school would teach. She could also see co-operation between schools.

"We could see an approach whereby you may have multiple schools delivering a strategy together and consulting with the community together."