Stuff | Chinese Language Week: Mandarin teacher sees interest soar

22 Sep 2019

When Angeline Tan started teaching Mandarin at an Auckland primary school three years ago, there were only about 80 students interested in learning one of the world's most popular languages.

Today, interest has swelled, with about 180 children learning, joining millions globally who are learning the language.

About twice a week for two hours, students from New Lynn's Arahoe School join Tan in discovering more about Chinese culture.

Mandarin students say they are learning the language to be able to interact with native Chinese speakers.
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF
Mandarin students say they are learning the language to be able to interact with native Chinese speakers.
There are games, skits, songs and making art, including Peking opera masks.

Compared to Singapore, learning Mandarin in New Zealand is less focused on "academics", Tan said.

Learning the language was navigating its nuances and appreciating the culture.

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In Singapore, the focus was on reading the characters and knowing how to write grammatically correct sentences.

But despite the fun and games in her classes, Tan said Mandarin was being taught at a "deep level" and there was no "token teaching" involved.

"It enables them to access Chinese culture and opens them up to other perspectives of the world."

At Arahoe School, about 9 per cent of the school's population was Chinese, Tan said.

The school had received funding from the Ministry of Education to run its Asian language programmes, which included Korean.

Angeline Tan has been teaching Mandarin at Arahoe School for three years.

Angeline Tan has been teaching Mandarin at Arahoe School for three years.
Ministry of Education figures showed the number of students learning Chinese in primary and intermediate school was 64,874 in 2017, up from 56,000 the year before.

Secondary schools, by comparison, only had 5814 students study the language in 2018.

A 2018 report prepared for the New Zealand China Council showed just 2 per cent of students learnt Chinese at a secondary level.

Its chairman Sir Don McKinnon said: "We need more Kiwis fluent in our official non-English languages te reo, New Zealand Sign Language as well as foreign languages, and particularly in Chinese as trade, investment, tourism, education and migration grow rapidly between our countries.


Arahoe School Mandarin students say they enjoy playing games like Jenzi and making rice dumplings while learning the language.

Arahoe School Mandarin students say they enjoy playing games like Jenzi and making rice dumplings while learning the language.
"We urge the Government to accelerate the recruitment of qualified Chinese teachers and equip Kiwi students to better understand and engage with China."

Tan said learning an Asian language was embedded in the school's charter: being inclusive of the community and building the culture capital of the city.

Students in Year 1 and 2 had a Mandarin learning assistant, while Year 3 and 4 students expressed interest in learning the language and were taught by a tutor.

Students in Year 5 and 6 were taught by Tan, based too on interest in learning Mandarin.

Children at the school had also taken part in competitions, such as in short films, Tan said.

During Chinese Language Week, Arahoe School would be visited by a Chinese calligrapher, there would be cooking and a performance by a Chinese dance group.

What Tan enjoyed most about teaching Mandarin was seeing students' love for the language and their curiosity.

"I am preparing them for the global universe they are going into, which is quite boundary-less."

The first-time Mandarin teacher also said enabling others to learn the language had awakened her own cultural knowledge and understanding.

Chinese Language Week runs from September 22-28. It first started in 2014 with the aim of increasing Chinese language learning in New Zealand.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/115944975/chinese-language-week-mandarin-teacher-sees-interest-soar