Speakers from the tourism, trade and finance sectors who were represented at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Chinese Language Conference last Tuesday 13 October, talked about the importance of Chinese language speakers in their industry.

The conference, for secondary school principals and organised by New Zealand China Council in association with Confucius Institutes in NZ and other partners, kicked off with a resounding demand from these industry sectors for Mandarin speakers.

TV1, in its news clip reported Mark Hiddleston from ANZ Bank saying “There’s a gap between students coming out with the skillset and tools they need to meet the opportunities in the marketplace.”

One of these immediate opportunities for Mandarin speakers is in tourism, Lesley Immink from Tourism Export Council said. She added, “Our second biggest tourist group visitors are Chinese – who are becoming far more independent and adventurous in their holiday activities.”

Later, school leaders spoke about some of the initial hurdles setting up their schools’ Chinese programme and the education required at government and community level for the long term benefits of learning the language. Conversely some schools who have taken the plunge, such as Onehunga High School have a sustainable and well-received Chinese programme.

Two ex-students who had received the benefits of learning Mandarin at secondary school, Alannah Manson and Luke Butler, spoke about how Mandarin had been of benefit to them in their careers. In their respective years, they had been Auckland regional winners of the Chinese Bridge speech competition organised by the Confucius Institute in Auckland. They went on to become the national winners representing NZ in the international competition in China. Both continued to study Chinese at the University of Auckland and as part of their speech competition success, they also won scholarships to study in China. Such competitions are part of the ‘support and motivation’ package that Confucius Institutes offer to Chinese learners in NZ. Other similar opportunities were shared by Confucius Institute in Auckland manager, Janine Chin.

Principals’ feedback was varied and insightful on the current arena for Asian language learning in New Zealand: “political will in Wellington needs to be changed”; “step by step plan on how to get started needed” and “this day has certainly advanced our thinking and planning for language learning at our school”.

The general flavour of the conference was to persevere and take advantage of the support offered. If we are able to overcome some of the current obstacles to learning Chinese, our graduates will be well-equipped to deal with an economy and country that will continue to be extremely important to us – China! Let’s rise up and take those opportunities!

Click here to see TV1’s news clip “Learning Mandarin set to be the job ticket of the future”