Chinese Language Week: Opening doors with Mandarin

Jo Coughlan

31 Aug 2020

OPINION: September is a busy month for fans of language - first, there’s Tongan Language Week, then Māori Language Week, and then New Zealand Chinese Language Week.

It’s exciting to see how Māori Language Week has become so popular, with so many people giving it a go.

The New Zealand Chinese Language Week (NZCLW) Trust supports the widespread adoption of Te Reo in the school curriculum - recognising its status as one of the official languages of New Zealand.

We’ve put our money where our mouth is and each year, recognising Te Reo’s important place in

New Zealand society, the New Zealand Chinese Language Week Trust with David Ling Publishing produces a children’s book using three languages - Mandarin, Te Reo, and English.

This year, the book is Ruru’s Hāngi. The book has proven to be a big hit with schools and with libraries, which receive a free copy. We have been told by people who have got the book that there aren’t that many resources available such as this book, and people are glad to receive it.

NZCLW celebrates multilingualism in New Zealand and recognises the advantages of learning Chinese in our increasingly globalised community.

Now in its sixth year, the Kiwi-led initiative is to be held across New Zealand between 20–26 September this year, and the theme is A Taste of New Zealand - celebrating the food and drink links between our Chinese and New Zealand cultures.

Part of the NZCLW Trust’s work is to advocate for more languages to be taught in our schools. For us, we think Mandarin should be one of those languages, as it opens up global opportunities for our young people.

Chinese is already the most widely introduced foreign language at our primary schools and the only foreign language, apart from Spanish, that is holding its own or growing in secondary schools.

As NZCLW trustee Paul Clark, Auckland University Professor of Chinese, says studying Chinese language opens a window on the diversity and long, recorded history of a major global culture.

In addition to whatever benefits brain scientists tell us about the benefits of second language-learning, the depth of insight that studying Chinese offers to students enhances their knowledge about the cultures of China and about their own.

The most important thing about learning another language, any language, is that it helps you communicate. You can talk with other people in that language. They get to hear you and your thoughts in the language that they are most comfortable in, and that’s a powerful feeling - to be recognised and spoken to in your own language.

New Zealand Chinese Language Week co-chair Jo Coughlan.
Whether you want to do business together, order dumplings with your beer, or just tell someone about something, language is about those people-to-people links.

Knowing another language enables you to share and to communicate more clearly. That’s why the New Zealand Chinese Language Trust was formed, to foster those links, the relationships between people.

Obviously, our focus is particularly on Mandarin, but we encourage the learning of other languages as well, and we endorse the wider provision of language training in schools and other educational institutions in New Zealand.

We are part of a global community, and we want to share with that wider community, through language.

NZCLW has resources designed to make it easier to practice helpful phrases provided by the trust through its website nzclw.com.

There are helpful phrase guides and posters available to download from the NZCLW website, nzclw.com.

People can take part in the #5Phrases5Days challenge and post on social media using #NZCLW or #NZCLWDumplingDay hashtags.

We hope to help more Kiwis ‘give Chinese a go’ by taking part in an event, taking the #5Phrases5Days challenge, or eating some dumplings.

A key part of the week will be Dumpling Day, September 26, a chance to celebrate the delicious little food parcels and highlight some of the great producers of dumplings in New Zealand - or indeed any good Chinese food made with great New Zealand products.

While we aren’t able to travel between New Zealand and China at the moment, there is lots of shared history and culture - particularly food culture - to celebrate within New Zealand. We encourage the public and local business community to get involved, host an event, and help inspire New Zealanders to better understand and connect with our Chinese friends and partners.

This article was written by New Zealand Language Week co-chair Jo Coughlan.