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The New Zealand Curriculum.

This site has been developed to support The New Zealand Curriculum

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Return to the Learning languages website on TKI for resources, links and support for language teaching in New Zealand.

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Strands and key competencies

A conceptual understanding of learning languages in The New Zealand Curriculum

Strands indicate the main themes by which the curriculum area is organised. The three strands in learning languages in The New Zealand Curriculum are:

  • Communication
  • Language knowledge
  • Cultural knowledge.

In the learning languages curriculum the  achievement objectives show how the key competencies support and are supported by communication, using language knowledge and cultural knowledge, at eight progressive levels. The proficiency descriptors within the achievement objectives explain in general terms what can be achieved at each two-level band. 

Communication is the core strand in learning languages, and all achievement objectives relate to this strand. People use their language knowledge and cultural knowledge in combination in order to communicate effectively. In this learning area, therefore, students’ learning is not assessed separately for achievement objectives that are in different strands.

Learning languages in New Zealand schools involves integrating the three strands, communication, language knowledge, and cultural knowledge, with the key competencies in the teaching and learning programme. (All of the key competencies fit very well into all three strands of the learning languages curriculum area – see the section below on the key competencies.)

How the key competencies relate to learning languages

When students learn a new language, they progressively extend their linguistic and cultural understanding and their ability to interact appropriately with other speakers. At the same time, they progressively develop all five of the key competencies.

The close relationship between the key competencies and language learning is suggested by the way that the wording of key competencies appears above the achievement objectives for communication in The New Zealand Curriculum. The terms “Selecting and using language, symbols, and texts to communicate”, “Managing self and relating to others”, and “Participating and contributing in communities” are placed here to indicate that language students can be developing all of the key competencies as they work towards the core achievement objectives. The phrases are not intended as discrete headings applying to only one achievement objective.


In languages, thinking often includes such processes as deducing a rule, inferring meaning from a text, finding a pattern, deciding on appropriate words to follow a stem, and using language functions such as explaining, classifying, comparing, and evaluating. Students also need to think when they compare objects, people, or systems, identify and list characteristics, brainstorm vocabulary or language structures that relate to a theme, place themselves on an opinion continuum and defend their position or point of view, or use such tools as mind maps, Bloom’s taxonomy, or De Bono’s thinking hats.

Thinking also includes using metacognitive processes – learning to learn. Teachers of languages can help students develop this aspect of their thinking by:

  • encouraging students to be curious and open-minded
  • encouraging students to be reflective, exploratory learners
  • building on students’ diverse knowledge and experiences
  • helping students understand what they are trying to achieve in language learning
  • helping students notice language and make appropriate connections
  • helping students develop strategies for learning
  • helping students monitor their own progress towards their language-learning goals.

Using language, symbols, and texts

This competency is at the core of language learning across all three strands – communication, language knowledge, and cultural knowledge. Using language, symbols, and texts involves all the language skills – listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and presenting or performing. People who are proficient in this competency are aware of language at word, sentence, and whole-text level and draw on their knowledge of a wide range of language features and text types to communicate effectively with particular audiences for specific purposes.

Teachers of languages will select vocabulary, language structures, and text types that are appropriate for their own students’ identified learning needs, so these curriculum guidelines do not provide lists of these. However, the guidelines do provide a generic list suggesting a wide range of text types and forms that teachers could include in their programmes, as well as examples based on using a particular text at a particular level for a particular language-learning purpose or purposes.

Managing self

Students learn how to manage themselves when they demonstrate that they can find opportunities to learn, use, and practise the target language, building on their own strengths and addressing their own identified learning needs. They also manage themselves by setting and meeting their own learning goals, being involved in reporting processes (for example, student-led conferences and managing their own speaking and writing portfolios) and by participating actively and responsibly in group activities.

There is also an identity thread that runs through this competency. “As [students] move between, and respond to, different languages and different cultural practices, they are challenged to consider their own identities and assumptions.” ( Learning languages, New Zealand Curriculum)

There are strong links between the principles for intercultural communicative language teaching and learning (iCLT) and the identity thread inherent in managing self.

Relating to others

This competency is about interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. It includes the ability to listen actively, recognise different points of view, negotiate, and share ideas.

Intercultural communicative language teaching is at the heart of learning languages in the New Zealand Curriculum. This requires explicit exploration of culture-in-language and of the perspectives of others from the beginning of language learning. Students are encouraged to develop listening and negotiation skills in order to become effective communicators. Interaction and the sharing of ideas are valued, and students have opportunities to engage with their peers and other speakers of the language they are learning, both directly and when using digital technologies to communicate at a distance.

Participating and contributing

This competency is about being actively involved in communities and includes learning to contribute to the well-being of others. Students do this through learning to contribute appropriately as a group member, making connections with others, and creating opportunities for others in the group.
Participating and contributing involves developing a sense of responsibility and a sense of belonging. When students are involved in communicative language learning activities, they learn to take a share of responsibility for maintaining communication. They develop their sense of themselves and their own points of view and also learn about those of others. Exploring the world views of other people helps students to mature as citizens of local communities, nations, and the world.

In the twenty-first century, it is vital that young people come to understand the interconnected nature of life on this planet. Students are growing up in a world of more diverse communities than ever before, and they need to find ways of addressing, grappling with, and relating to the quality and sustainability of social, cultural, physical, and economic environments. Language-related competencies enable students to engage more closely with the views and perspectives of others, which enables them to contribute to their communities in active and positive ways.

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