Kiwis wish to learn Chinese, but choose French

Learn Chinese, Japanese
Learning Chinese is crucial for success


Kiwis are interested in learning the Chinese and the Japanese language, according to a recent survey.


(See video at the end of the article to learn beginner’s Chinese online.)

The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s annual Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples in 2013 survey has found that New Zealanders consider Chinese the most valuable foreign language to learn.

Almost all (93 percent) people polled in the survey thought it was valuable to learn another language. Of those, 64 percent thought Chinese would be valuable to learn, followed by Japanese (31 percent) and Spanish (22 percent).

People felt it was worthwhile to learn Chinese because of New Zealand’s trade links, the fact it is a widely spoken language, and because they felt it would enable New Zealanders to understand Chinese people more easily.

The survey reveals a gap between the languages considered the most valuable to learn and those widely taught in New Zealand schools. Chinese is the fifth most commonly studied language in New Zealand secondary schools.

Foreign language learning in New Zealand secondary schools (2012)

  • French – 22,379
  • Japanese – 12,473
  • Spanish – 11,372
  • German – 4,663
  • Chinese – 2,849
  • Indonesian – 0
  • Korean – 0

The survey shows a clear discrepancy between those who think Chinese is important to learn, and those who are actually learning it, says Asia New Zealand Foundation director of research Dr Andrew Butcher.

“It also reveals a gap between New Zealanders’ recognition of the importance of Asia to New Zealand’s future, and their confidence in interacting with the region.”

Four out of five people (80 percent) polled in the 2013 survey believed Asia was important to New Zealand, up from 77 percent in 2012. But two-thirds said they knew only a little or almost nothing about the region.

The Foundation had been carrying out regular research since 1997 to measure perceptions of the peoples and countries of Asia.

This latest survey shows an increased desire among New Zealanders to learn more about the cultures, traditions and languages of Asia, says Asia New Zealand Foundation chairman Philip Burdon.

“This cultural understanding is going to be increasingly important if New Zealand is to have constructive long-term relationships with Asian countries.”

New Zealanders surveyed want more Asian investment in New Zealand, with ownership and control retained by Kiwis.

Most New Zealanders (75 percent) agreed it was good for the New Zealand economy to have Asian companies investing in New Zealand businesses – an increase of five percentage points since last year.

However, those interviewed in a follow-up forum felt that ownership and control of assets and organisations should remain in New Zealand.

The survey also found that nationally, New Zealanders were more likely to disagree (43 percent) that rising house prices were due to Asian people buying properties. But the opposite was true in Auckland – Aucklanders were more likely to agree (46 percent) that Asian people were responsible for rising house prices.

Another report by the Royal Society of New Zealand – Languages in Aotearoa New Zealand – highlights New Zealand’s “superdiversity”, with more than 160 languages spoken.

But the report also reveals the need for a coordinated approach to language learning and teaching.

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director John McKinnon says it is vital for New Zealand’s economic, cultural, and political interests that Asian languages are more widely taught in New Zealand.

“Parents need to see to that having their children learn Asian languages will improve their future prospects.”

Other countries are already developing policies to boost the availability of Asian languages in schools, he says. The Australian Government’s 2012 Australia in the Asian Century white paper outlined requirements for every school to teach a priority Asian language.

“Even countries outside the Asia-Pacific are looking at Asian languages,” John says. “The Swedish government has asked its National Education Agency to develop a new curriculum for Chinese in its schools.

“Countries across the world are now investing in Asian languages. This is a wake-up call for New Zealand.”

The Royal Society’s paper points out that research has shown learning another language at school improves performance right across the curriculum.

The number of New Zealand children learning Chinese has grown steadily in the past decade, but only a minority of schools offer the language, says John.

Meanwhile, other key Asian languages are barely taught in New Zealand at all.

Of particular concern is Indonesian, says John. Indonesia is New Zealand’s nearest Asian neighbour, the world’s fourth most populous country, and has a rapidly growing economy.

“But Ministry of Education statistics show no New Zealand secondary students were studying Indonesian last year.”

John, who learnt Chinese while working as a diplomat, says improved access to Asian languages does not have to come at the expense of European languages. The Asia New Zealand Foundation would like to see all New Zealand children having access to choices for foreign languages, as well as te reo Māori.

However, shortage of teachers is a major issue in teaching Asian languages in New Zealand. “Obviously this is not going to happen immediately, but we need to take a medium-term approach and invest in the future of our children.”

According to the ministry of education, New Zealand’s two other official languages (other than English) – te reo Māori and New Zealand sign language – are included in curriculum, along with Chinese, Cook Islands Māori, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Samoan, Spanish, Tokelauan, Tongan and ‘Vagahau Niue (Niuean).

 Photo: Ivan Walsh



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