Sharon’s experience teaching in Japan straight after university, led her into a lifelong career in languages.
“Teaching in Japan gave me a good understanding of what it is like to be in an environment where you can’t speak the language or read the script.
“All my life I have been a language teacher, and have seen the inequities that are caused by people not being able to use their own language routinely and not having good access to English.”
Sharon led the team that published the 2013 Royal Society of New Zealand paper called Languages of Aotearoa New Zealand, which sets the scene for what she believes should become a National Languages Policy in New Zealand.
“One of the priorities in a National Languages Policy alongside the revitalisation, capacity building and widespread acquisition of Te Reo Maori would be the important area of Pacific languages, which we feel should be much more closely attended to in New Zealand.”
Sharon says it’s important that we acknowledge the different Pacific languages, their histories in New Zealand and their different requirements for revitalisation and more effective mobilisation in and across our education system, including in universities.
She believes Pacific educational achievement would be much higher if Pacific students were able to have the language and culture knowledge they learn in their families and communities consolidated, academically encoded and extended once they start school.
As a result of the work undertaken for the Royal Society of New Zealand, Sharon went on to become a core member of the Auckland Languages Strategy group, and in November 2015 the group succeeded in having a Languages Strategy endorsed by Auckland Council.
“One of the key tenets to that is embedding and extending the use and acquisition of Pacific languages in Auckland. Auckland is the largest Pacific city in the world and while we celebrate Pacific cultures we do little to recognise and foster the languages.”
Sharon started at AUT in the late 1980’s (then AIT) as a literacy coordinator for the School of Languages and Communication, and has stayed with the university for nearly thirty years.
“The best thing about working at AUT is having the freedom to be able to do things that I think are really important.”
Sharon enjoys teaching her PhD students, because she believes the work that they do in their communities and countries has a big effect.
“I really value the fact that AUT makes a big difference to its students.”
Sharon’s research is particularly concerned with language and education policy.
“New Zealand is publically monolingual, but privately we are quite a multilingual country now. However multilingualism is not visible and is not mobilised to help New Zealand manage better as a now super diverse country.
“I work and research in the broad area of languages in education and language policy. They are vital areas for society and hold the seeds of positive change for humanity. Multilingualism is a gift to the person who is multilingual and the society who has multilingual citizens.”