Learning Chinese 'a necessity'

Chinese government prepared to fund teachers to travel from China to Gisborne via the Victoria University Confucius Institute.

Chinese government prepared to fund teachers to travel from China to Gisborne via the Victoria University Confucius Institute.

LANGUAGE THE WAY FORWARD: From left are ginseng grower and Maraeroa C Incorporation chief executive Glen Katu, Central School principal Andy Hayward, Victoria University of Wellington Confucius Institute chairman Tony Browne, Mayor Meng Foon, Oregon Group representatives Thomas and Steven Song, Gisborne Girls’ High School international director Wendy Kirkwood and GGHS principal Jan Kumar. The group were at a symposium on teaching Chinese Mandarin in schools. The symposium also touched on the possibility of growing more ginseng here — more on that in tomorrow’s paper. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

LEARNING Chinese is now a necessity not a luxury was the strong message at a symposium at Gisborne District Council chambers yesterday.

Victoria University of Wellington Confucius Institute chairman Tony Browne led the symposium on learning Mandarin in schools throughout the region.

He said the Chinese government would fund teachers to travel from China to Gisborne via the Victoria University Confucius Institute, their salaries, accommodation and some food — schools that wished to be involved would need to provide pastoral care, health insurance, a classroom and transportation.

Mr Browne’s background is in foreign affairs and he was the New Zealand ambassador to China from 2004 to 2009. Previously he was director of the North Asia division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and director of New Zealand’s commerce office in Taipei.

“Language is the key to cultural understanding, and underpinning our business, government and personal connections has to be linguistic capacity.

“We are going through a huge transformation of New Zealand society. There is no point arguing whether it is good or bad, it is here now, it is happening. We are no longer saying language is beneficial for when you go outside New Zealand — now it is ‘if you can speak Chinese you can operate within New Zealand’.”

A doubling in trade

From 2009 to 2014, the total value of goods traded between New Zealand and China doubled to $20 billion. From 2010 to 2030 the size of Asia-Pacific region economies was projected to increase by 570 percent, Mr Browne said.

If this happened, Asia-Pacific economies would be “significantly” bigger than Europe’s and North America’s combined.

“We have a responsibility as teachers, parents and community leaders to start looking at what we can do to prepare our children for the reality coming at us,” said Mr Browne.

“New Zealand has a national interest to make ourselves more ready and more competent for what we will have to do with China in the future.”

Mr Browne reiterated that he was not a teacher but a diplomat, so his understanding of the benefits of speaking the language of major trading countries like China was from a trade standpoint.

However he referenced a 2013 Royal Society of New Zealand study which looked at educational benefits. The study found that learning another language at school improves performance right across the curriculum, develops cognitive skills and mental creativity, builds multi-tasking skills and improves problem-solving skills.

“I am not saying do not learn te reo Maori, te reo should be the first option, Chinese should be next — and now we have the Chinese Government paying for us to learn.”

Languages essential in primary school

Gisborne Girls’ High School principal Jan Kumar said starting languages in primary schools was essential, as beginning a language at high school was viewed as too hard by students and unattractive compared to other subjects that were easier to pass.

Principals and business owners asked if classes could be extended to adults too. Mr Browne said the need to start languages in primary schools was an issue right across the country and he agreed wholeheartedly that it was key.

Getting adults into learning Chinese was also doable and was already happening through Confucius Institute programmes.

New Zealand Asian Leaders member Ming Pollard said if students started young they became multilingual without even thinking.

Each year the Victoria University Confucius Institute receives funding to take a New Zealand delegation of 10 school principals over to China, minus the airfares.

Such was his enthusiasm to get the ball rolling in Gisborne that Mr Browne said it was possible to have an all-Gisborne delegation go over next year, if the region could get 10 schools to commit.


LEARNING Chinese is now a necessity not a luxury was the strong message at a symposium at Gisborne District Council chambers yesterday.

Victoria University of Wellington Confucius Institute chairman Tony Browne led the symposium on learning Mandarin in schools throughout the region.

He said the Chinese government would fund teachers to travel from China to Gisborne via the Victoria University Confucius Institute, their salaries, accommodation and some food — schools that wished to be involved would need to provide pastoral care, health insurance, a classroom and transportation.

Mr Browne’s background is in foreign affairs and he was the New Zealand ambassador to China from 2004 to 2009. Previously he was director of the North Asia division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and director of New Zealand’s commerce office in Taipei.

“Language is the key to cultural understanding, and underpinning our business, government and personal connections has to be linguistic capacity.

“We are going through a huge transformation of New Zealand society. There is no point arguing whether it is good or bad, it is here now, it is happening. We are no longer saying language is beneficial for when you go outside New Zealand — now it is ‘if you can speak Chinese you can operate within New Zealand’.”

A doubling in trade

From 2009 to 2014, the total value of goods traded between New Zealand and China doubled to $20 billion. From 2010 to 2030 the size of Asia-Pacific region economies was projected to increase by 570 percent, Mr Browne said.

If this happened, Asia-Pacific economies would be “significantly” bigger than Europe’s and North America’s combined.

“We have a responsibility as teachers, parents and community leaders to start looking at what we can do to prepare our children for the reality coming at us,” said Mr Browne.

“New Zealand has a national interest to make ourselves more ready and more competent for what we will have to do with China in the future.”

Mr Browne reiterated that he was not a teacher but a diplomat, so his understanding of the benefits of speaking the language of major trading countries like China was from a trade standpoint.

However he referenced a 2013 Royal Society of New Zealand study which looked at educational benefits. The study found that learning another language at school improves performance right across the curriculum, develops cognitive skills and mental creativity, builds multi-tasking skills and improves problem-solving skills.

“I am not saying do not learn te reo Maori, te reo should be the first option, Chinese should be next — and now we have the Chinese Government paying for us to learn.”

Languages essential in primary school

Gisborne Girls’ High School principal Jan Kumar said starting languages in primary schools was essential, as beginning a language at high school was viewed as too hard by students and unattractive compared to other subjects that were easier to pass.

Principals and business owners asked if classes could be extended to adults too. Mr Browne said the need to start languages in primary schools was an issue right across the country and he agreed wholeheartedly that it was key.

Getting adults into learning Chinese was also doable and was already happening through Confucius Institute programmes.

New Zealand Asian Leaders member Ming Pollard said if students started young they became multilingual without even thinking.

Each year the Victoria University Confucius Institute receives funding to take a New Zealand delegation of 10 school principals over to China, minus the airfares.

Such was his enthusiasm to get the ball rolling in Gisborne that Mr Browne said it was possible to have an all-Gisborne delegation go over next year, if the region could get 10 schools to commit.


■ There are three Confucius Institutes in the country, based in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. Gisborne falls under the Wellington umbrella. The Wellington institute has teachers recruited from elite universities in China and put through a rigorous interview process in more than 100 schools, 49 in the Bay of a Plenty alone, but none in Gisborne yet.

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