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  • Writer's pictureSilvereye

Surge in number of students learning Chinese Mandarin

Each week, Li Ling Ho organises more than 20 Mandarin language classes and story time sessions, many of which are full to the brim with toddlers and schoolchildren learning the world’s most spoken language.

Ho founded Ni Hao Children’s Community, a charitable organisation in Wellington, just over two years ago as a way to teach Chinese Mandarin in a fun way. With the number of participants on the up, it appears to have struck a chord.

“So far, even just as a start up, people are really interested and keep asking us to start classes in different suburbs,” Ho said.

What’s happening in Wellington isn’t unique, with a rise in the number of people learning the language, both in schools or through private lessons, in the last decade.

The most recent Statistics New Zealand figures show the number of people who could speak Northern Chinese, including Mandarin, had almost doubled between 2001 and 2013.

Of the 52,263 people who are able to speak the language, 6,900 of them were born in New Zealand, up from 1,953 in 2001.

Ministry of Education figures show the number of students learning Chinese in New Zealand schools is growing quickly, with 32,896 primary school-aged children learning the language in 2015, up from 24,143 the year before.

One of those Kiwis, former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, learnt the language during her time on the council and believed knowing a second language was “valuable at any age”.

“Mandarin is increasingly important – from welcoming foreign delegations to doing business in China or encouraging higher value tourism in New Zealand.

“It’s also a beautiful and complex language that makes you think more widely.”

New Zealand is the only Western country to celebrate a national Chinese Language Week each year.

Project manager Sylvie Poupard-Gould said the week, which has been typically held in September each year, came on the back of a strengthening relationship between the two countries.

“There are just so many opportunities – commercial or otherwise – out there of people who take that leap of faith.”

“It’s about upskilling Kiwis to become global citizens. New Zealand is essentially monolingual so it’s been great to see the push for languages which can help us become more of a global player.”

This year the awareness week has been pushed to begin on October 16 due to the general election.

About 140,000 primary schoolers study a second language, most of them in years 7 and 8.

While it’s still not a subject offered at the majority of primary schools around the country, partnerships with private language lesson operators have been bridging the gap.

Ho had reached out to several schools and playcentres around the Wellington region, to highlight what her organisation is doing to prepare young people for the future.

“It’s about how to communicate in a global world and being able to see things from someone else’s point of view, she said.

“From an overseas point of view, people who already know a second language know that it opens up your mind to a whole different way of thinking.”

The organisation has about 65 enrolled language students as well as hundreds of others taking part more informally or during story times around the city.

 – Sunday Star Times


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