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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:32 am

Chinese speakers surge thanks to schools support

Former diplomat and Confucius Institute director Rebecca Needham speaks on building New Zealanders’ Chinese language and cultural skills.

Chinese language teaching has surged more than 60% in New Zealand primary schools, helped by Mandarin tutors living in small towns like Edgecumbe and Opotiki.

The success of the placing Chinese university students throughout the country has played a big part says Rebecca Needham, Director of Victoria University’s Confucius Institute.

Enrolments of students from years 1 to 8 learning Chinese reached 52,669 in July 2016, compared to the 2015 figure of 32,896.

In 2015, Chinese bypassed French as the most popular foreign language taught in primary schools.

There has also been a much smaller-scale increase among secondary schools. Figures show a 10.1% increase from 2015 to July 2016.

The Confucius Institute places Mandarin language assistants at New Zealand schools and tertiary institutions to help with this growth.

They are Chinese university students who help teachers to teach Mandarin and give linguistic and cultural insight.

New Zealand’s three Confucius Institutes place 147 language assistants at over 400 schools, as well as running language classes, proficiency tests, and cultural workshops in schools.

Victoria’s Confucius Institute also recently schooled Radio New Zealand presenters on Chinese pronunciation for Chinese language week.

The work was recognised in Chinese language week commemorations at the National Library, during which Ms Needham pointed to the importance of the language assistants.

“They’re really an incredibly valuable resource in New Zealand’s classrooms for teaching Chinese language and culture,” Ms Needham said.

While the language assistants are not New Zealand-qualified teachers, they do assist teachers, helping to enrich the classroom content.

Ms Needham said increased language skills would be important for future New Zealand school leavers seeking employment.

“This is the time for them to be learning a second language and more generally just equipping themselves for the future in an increasingly global community.

“Other countries are making this investment so that their students are going to be more culturally competent, more competitive, and generally, more mobile.”

Victoria’s Confucius Institute was established in partnership with China’s Xiamen University to increase New Zealanders’ understanding of China, its culture, and its language.

It opened in 2010, joining a group of 500 such institutes worldwide financially supported by Beijing’s Chinese Language Council International and Confucius Institute Headquarters.

Ms Needham also outlined New Zealand-Chinese relations and interaction, from the first 19th century Chinese immigrant to New Zealand naturalised as a British subject, to New Zealand’s recent, increased consular representation in China.

Chinese Language Week was launched in 2014 and ran from October 16-22 this year.

 

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