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Hekia Parata shows off her dance moves for Chinese Language Week

Chloe Winter

6 Sept 2015

Education Minister Hekia Parata showcased her dance moves at the launch of New Zealand's first Chinese Language Week, joining students who performed a Gangnam-style Chinese dance.

But before taking time to boogie, Parata announced that every year New Zealand will hold a Chinese Language Week from September 7 to 13.

The aim of the week is to encourage more Kiwis to try speaking Chinese in an attempt to bridge the cultural and linguistic knowledge gap between China and New Zealand.

As demand for learning Chinese languages grew, Parata felt it was appropriate to dedicate a week to the language.

"We do have a free-trade agreement [and] we've now built that relationship to a very strong place and this is a natural consequence of that. I'm pretty excited about it."

Mandarin had become the fastest-growing language to learn throughout New Zealand, she said.

"[So] I think it's really significant. It's extending the interest across New Zealand in learning Mandarin and the importance of our ties with China – and in the enthusiasm that young people are taking up this language."

She also announced that the Government would pour $3.3 million over the next three years into Chinese language programmes in schools to bridge the cultural and linguistic knowledge gap.

The 22 groups who won funding to establish new Mandarin, Japanese or Korean programmes, or expand existing ones, involved 129 schools throughout the country, of which Wellington East Girls' College was one.

Year 12 student Isla Hutching-Bryant has been studying Chinese for six years and believes her language diversity may help her get a job in China.

"I'd been to China and I think that it was such an interesting culture and I think that China is such a big country and I really wanted to visit there again when I'm older – maybe even work there, so that's why I wanted to continue with Chinese at school."

She believed dedicating an entire week to the Chinese language was a great idea.

"I think it's really important because there's not a lot of people, in my year at least, who do Chinese and I noticed that in year 9 this year, there is heaps and heaps of girls doing it."

Asia New Zealand Foundation research showed the number of secondary students learning Chinese has increased from 1276 in 2004 to 4218 in 2014.

New Zealand Chinese Language Trust co-chair Raymond Huo said China was New Zealand's most important trading partner, largest source of international students, and second biggest source of tourists.

"There is an economic and social need to have more Kiwis communicating and understanding China in a cultural context. Learning the basics of another language goes a long way when building relationships with that culture.

"To bond with our Chinese colleagues, friends, and trading partners, we must try and get basic courtesies like pronunciation and greetings correct."

Last year, the Government established the $10 million Asian Language Learning in Schools contestable fund to increase the provision of Asian languages in schools.

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