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Embracing Chinese Language Week makes business sense

Anuja Nadkarni

Learning the language is the first step for businesses that want to become China-ready, businesswoman Jo Coughlan says.

China is New Zealand's second-largest trading partner, its biggest market for export goods, a fast-growing service market and an increasingly major source of foreign investment.

Coughlan heads New Zealand Chinese Language Week. During the week, it will run a social media campaign teaching five Mandarin phrases through social videos.

Coughlan is also director of agribusiness Silvereye and said, as a business owner, she recognised the opportunities, challenges and complexities of the Chinese market.

* Surge in number of students learning Chinese Mandarin
* Giving Chinese language and culture a go
* Five thousand march through Wellington for Māori Language Week

Professor Paul Spoonley says Kiwi businesses needed to show greater respect for this country's trade relationship with China.
Professor Paul Spoonley says Kiwi businesses needed to show greater respect for this country's trade relationship with China.
"It can be challenging understanding the nuances of a different culture and of course a very different language, so it's important for businesses to develop a strategy for dealing with these new markets and clients to make the most of the opportunities out there. Language capability is a great first step," Coughlan said.

Massey University professor Paul Spoonley​ said Kiwi businesses needed to show greater respect for the country's trade relationship with China.

New Zealand could not be a successful trading partner without cultural knowledge, Spoonley said.

Silvereye director Jo Coughlan says learning about China makes good business sense.
"Our future will increasingly be tied to China. We expect others to speak our language, but we also need to learn theirs and go beyond that and understand their culture, too."

While there was a trade argument to delve into the Chinese culture, there was also an imminent domestic aspect to it, Spoonley said.

Of the 52,263 New Zealanders who are able to speak Mandarin, 6900 of them were born in New Zealand, up from 1953 in 2001.

Ministry of Education figures show the number of students learning Chinese in New Zealand schools is growing quickly, with 32,896 primary school-aged children learning the language in 2015, up from 24,143 the year before.

Aotea Gifts is one New Zealand business that has made learning Mandarin and the Chinese culture a priority.

The company's director, Donald Hanson, said engaging with the culture ensured better customer service.

The family-owned business has eight stores around the country. Around half of its 150 staff are Mandarin speakers.

NZ China Council executive director Stephen Jacobi said tourism was another sector where businesses could do more to engage and communicate in Chinese.

Chinese holidaymakers coming here dropped just over 2 per cent for the year to June, and the total amount spent by Chinese arrivals fell 17 per cent to $1.4 billion.

For the young generation of business people, learning the language was a great investment for the future, Jacobi said.

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