An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Chinese Language Week opens students' eyes to Chinese language and culture

Ni Haos were said, lanterns made, Chinese characters written and dumplings cooked in schools throughout New Zealand in September to mark Chinese Language Week.

Watch a video slideshow of schools marking Chinese Language Week

Sonya Van Schaijik, who teaches Chinese language at Auckland's Newmarket School, says Chinese Language Week gave her school an opportunity to make connections with the local Chinese community and showcase Chinese language and culture to their students, almost a third of whom are of Chinese ethnicity. Van Schaijik says the school wanted to "celebrate who we are".

The Asia New Zealand Foundation provided the school funding towards calligraphy, kite-making, dumpling-making, lantern-making.

"The children loved researching, creating and making their arts and crafts," Van Schaijik says. "The whole school celebrated the Moon Cake Festival by hearing the Story of Chang'e and sampling moon cakes."

She says the large number of ethnically Chinese students at the school and Mandarin's status as an upcoming global language is only part of the reason Newmarket school teaches Mandarin.

"I also know from experience that learning a second language contributes to literacy skills in our children’s first language.”

Newmarket School students also connected with the school's sister school in Ningbo, China: Jiangbei Foreign Language School. Via WeChat, the Kiwi students sang a waiata and their Chinese counterparts took them on a tour of their school.

Chinese (Mandarin) is one of the few languages in New Zealand with increasing student numbers - about 4,300 students were studying Mandarin in 2015, up from about 1,500 in 2005. By contrast, more than twice as many students were studying Japanese in 2015 (about 10,800) but the numbers have almost halved since 2005 when there were some 20,000 Japanese-language students.

Asia New Zealand Foundation director education Jeff Johnstone says for New Zealand to make the most of its relationships with Asia, more students need to take up learning an Asian language.

Although encouraged by the increasing numbers of students studying Mandarin, he says the numbers are still reasonably low and not offsetting declines in the number of students studying other Asian languages. Over the past ten years, New Zealand has seen a 29 percent drop in secondary school students learning an Asian language.

Johnstone says students are often put off taking up Chinese due to the misconception that it is too hard to learn.

"While it can be tricky to learn the basics of Mandarin because of the tones, it has similar basic sentence structure to English and verbs aren't conjugated, which makes the learning process easier."

He says students who leave school with a good foundation in a second language are at a distinct advantage over their peers.

“Students leaving our school system with any language, including Chinese, will have an added advantage in their lives and careers in an increasingly connected world.

“As China is an important trade partner and we have increasing numbers of Chinese calling New Zealand home, Chinese is an obvious choice for many.”

The Asia New Zealand Foundation supported the following schools Chinese Language Week activities with Experience Asia Grants:

  • Carmel College – painting, calligraphy
  • Takapuna Primary – lantern and dumpling making, paper cutting, murals
  • Te Aro School – fan dance costumes, painting
  • Wellington East Girls’ College – calligraphy, dance, and dumpling making workshops
  • Mission Heights Junior College – dumpling making, lantern making calligraphy, painting, martial arts workshops
  • Morrinsville Intermediate – dumpling making
  • Newmarket Primary – calligraphy, kite-making, dumpling-making, lantern-making
  • Tahuna Normal Intermediate – dumpling-making, arts and crafts, lion dancers, games
  • Tamatea High School – costumes, food ingredients, calligraphy supplies
  • Wa Ora Montessori School – lantern-making, calligraphy, dumpling and tea making
  • Wellington High School – fan dancing workshops.

Here's what some of the students said:

Carmel School:

  • Calista: "The wushu guy was really interesting. I wish we could have had more time learning with him." 
  • Felize: "It was interesting how you hold the brush. Writing backwards was pretty cool!"
  • Lika: "Everyone got to have a turn so he (the expert) helped you. It was really inclusive."
  • Sophie: "I loved how beautiful my name looked written in characters." 
  • Charlotte: "The people playing the Chinese instruments were so clever. I've never seen those instruments before. I loved the sound they made."

Wellington High School

  • Mae: "I really enjoyed learning the Chinese fan dancing and I definitely would want to do it again."
  • Jade: "It was cool learning something that isn't very easy to find in New Zealand"
  • Ash: "This was a very enjoyable experience, that has been able to open up more possibilities for students, and had made some students more enthusiastic to learn mandarin, and Chinese culture."

Find out more

23 October 2016