M A N D A R I N   S U P E R S T A R

Angeline Tan

Arahoe School

Based: Auckland

Proficiency: Advanced

Angeline Tan was born in Singapore. She started learning Mandarin as a second language at the age of seven but as she grew up, she soon lost much of the language.


It wasn't until Angeline started teaching at Arahoe School in Auckland, playing the role of interpreter for Chinese parents, that she began to pick up Mandarin again.

Since taking on the role of the Year 5 and 6 Mandarin Language teacher, Angeline's enrolments have jumped from 80 to 180 students! 


She has  developed a virtual learning platform where children can access their Mandarin and Chinese cultural learning 24/7 online and created a Chinese community group where she communicates to Chinese families using WeChat. The community group have organised dumplings to sell at the school fair, organised for Chinese dance groups to visit the school during Chinese language weeks and for mums to come in and make moon cakes and other special foods during different festivals. 

When did you start learning Chinese?

am ethnically Chinese as my great-great-grandfather came from China. I grew up in Singapore and spoke mainly English and some Teochew (a Chinese dialect) with my family. I started learning Mandarin as a second language at the age of seven when I started school.

What inspired you to take up the language?

In Singapore, learning a second language is compulsory and I learnt Mandarin when I was in school. Mandarin was not my strongest subject and I remember failing my oral exams. Growing up I remembered my grandmother reading her prayer book in Teochew. It was inspiring. I can read some Chinese characters in Mandarin but I wish I had learnt to read them in my Teochew dialect too.

Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey?

Although Singapore has four official languages, English is the lingua franca in Singapore. After I left school, I hardly read nor used Mandarin except when ordering my meal at the hawker-centre (Singapore-styled food court). A lack of use meant that I forgot many of my Chinese characters and Mandarin felt like a foreign tongue.


My Chinese roots were awakened when I came to New Zealand and became a teacher at Arahoe School. I had to play the role of an interpreter for my Chinese parents in the school and when I was asked to take on the role of the Mandarin Language teacher for the Years 5 and 6 students, I decided that it was time for me to go for a refresher course in the language.


Learning Mandarin again as an adult enabled me to make new links and develop a greater understanding of the language and excelling in the Chinese HSK exams at Level 4 inspired me to want to keep learning and improving. As I think of ways to teach and motivate my students, and share the Chinese experiences with their parents, I am deepening my own knowledge about the Chinese language and the culture.


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

I had the opportunity of going for a Confucius Institute-sponsored scholarship trip to Beijing Language and Culture University in April this year. I attended the Teachers of Chinese as a Foreign Language Training Programme where I had the opportunity to pick up some skills on Taichi Fan Dance, Chinese calligraphy and visit historical places such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.


I was able to navigate my way easily in China as I could speak the language. Being chosen to be a Mandarin Superstar is also a privilege that has come about because of my Chinese speaking ability.

What do you like most about Chinese culture?

When I was young, I remember watching Teochew operas on the black and white television with my dad. This interest has stayed with me and I felt a deep sense of familiarity when I watched the Beijing Opera when I was in China this year. I am always captivated by the painted faces, the vibrant costumes, the significance of each movement, the music and the acrobatic movements.


I believe that the exposure which I had when I was young had an influence on my love for helping my students on stage and in performing. Teaching them to create their own scripts for the short films and watching them through the whole process from rehearsals to receiving the awards were invaluable experiences!

What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?

In the three years that I have been teaching Mandarin at Arahoe School, I have seen the numbers of Years 5 and 6 students choosing to learn Mandarin grow from 80 to 180. I developed a digital visible learning platform to enable my students to have a 24/7 access and to hone their independence in learning the language.

My students received the ‘Best Performance Award’, ‘Best Creative Award’ and numerous ‘Merit Awards’ for their short films in the 2018 and 2019 New Zealand School Students Chinese Short Film Contests. They are also taking part in the 2019 New Zealand School Chinese Song Contest and are currently awaiting the results. These extra-curricular involvement of my students have also engaged the interest of their parents in the Chinese language and culture.


To encourage parents' involvement, I created a Chinese community group within our school, communicating with them using WeChat. Our Chinese parents have organised dumplings to sell at our school fair and the West Auckland Senior Chinese Dance Troup to perform at our school fair and Chinese Language Week. Every term our parents will come in to make Chinese food with our students, e.g. 粽子 zòngzǐ (rice dumplings) and 月饼 yuèbǐng (mooncakes) and 汤 tāngyuán (a sweet syrup glutinous rice ball dessert).


This year, two of my ex-students who went on a trip to China with their Intermediate School were chosen to speak in Mandarin to an assembly. Through all these, it is so rewarding to see the students’ love for the language, the increased knowledge of the Chinese culture and the involvement of the whanau in their learning.

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

The first meal in the day! As Chinese like to eat rice and wheat flour products, it is common to eat rice porridge/congee or noodles with dishes for breakfast. Bread is often considered a snack food. Potatoes are mostly served as vegetables not as a staple.

Chinese are reserved and taught to be modest so they often down play their abilities and seldom publicly show their emotions. The concept of ‘saving face’ is very important. Keeping a stoic front is common.