M A N D A R I N   S U P E R S T A R

Amy Powles

New Zealand Police

Age: 44

Based: Auckland

Proficiency: Beginner 

Amy started learning Chinese while working at New Zealand Customs. Her team were given lessons and cue cards to carry with them around the airport as a way to connect with and help Chinese visitors.

Amy loved the way learning a few simple phrases had such a huge impact on the people she encountered. Amy has recently started at New Zealand Police where she's excited to bring her Mandarin skills to the new role!

When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?


I started learning Mandarin last year whilst working at NZ Customs at Auckland International Airport. We were all encouraged to learn and use Mandarin on a daily basis during face-to-face interactions with passengers. 


Having moved to New Zealand 10 years ago from England, I never thought I would be learning Chinese or even interested in learning Chinese. However here in New Zealand, it is definitely well worth learning Mandarin to help in many areas of ones’ own life, be it work or personal.


Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?


Whilst at NZ Customs we had small group training sessions, in person, with a native Mandarin-speaking colleague. We had a great explanation of the four different tones of Mandarin, 1st tone, 2nd tone, 3rd tone and 4th tone. In order to help learn the tones and short, basic phrases we were given cue cards with words and pictures. We all kept these cue cards on our person so that quick references could be made. Once I had understood the different tones then it made it so much easier to entertain the idea of learning Mandarin.


The most rewarding part of the experience so far is seeing native Mandarin speakers smile with delight when they realise I am trying to speak Mandarin. It forms a real and immediate connection for a good open communication with each other.


What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?


I was out walking in the bush with my four year old daughter, when my daughter saw another family with a young toddler. The family were Chinese. My four year old had heard me practising and using Ni Hao (Hello) in the days prior. As we walked passed my young daughter said to the little boy - ‘Ni Hao’ and proudly told the family, ‘My mummy speaks Chinese’. This made the family smile and opened up a friendly dialogue between us all.

What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?


To me, what I have observed here is that most Kiwis are used to a small country with hardly any people in it whereas the Chinese culture has vast experience of a big country with lots of people in it.

What do you like most about Chinese culture?


I have been a rower for many years but in 2017 / 2018 I was a dragon boat paddler for a Women’s Premier Team in Auckland. Dragon boating originates from China and is well known for colourful and decorative Chinese dragons that adorn the bows of the dragon boats.


In 2018 my dragon boat team won gold at the NZ National Championships making us the 2018 National Champs.

Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for those taking up the language?


If you give Mandarin a go you will soon realise that with daily use it will stick and you will enjoy learning it. It creates new connections with a large portion of society that perhaps you may not have connected with before. From my experience, any native Mandarin-speaking person who you test out your Mandarin skills on will happily try and help you get it right and even teach you some new words or phrases.


My biggest tip is to firstly learn and understand the four tones of Mandarin. This will help you immensely.