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New Post 25.08.2010 14:02
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Students urged to learn Mandarin Chinese 

Students urged to learn Mandarin Chinese

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EXPERTS SAY Mandarin is the language that high school students should learn for business reasons, but very few teenagers are taking that advice.

About 25,000 students are learning a second language, but last year just 752 passed NCEA Chinese. Instead, students are continuing to learn the language of love, with 5416 passing French, while Maori, with 6545 students, is the most popular language of the 14 being taught in the country's secondary schools.

The number of students learning Maori is up by 22% since 2004, but the biggest growth was in Spanish, which has attracted 58% more students in that time.

While French is still popular in schools, business leaders say its influence is waning in today's commercial world, although they say learning any other language is better than none.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said New Zealand students need to master written and spoken English – something many were failing to do – before attempting a second language.

"We have to make sure that the kids leaving school learn and understand written and spoken English, and that's a problem right now. Before we move on to all the rest, the language of business in the world is still English."

Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said Chinese was the best language to learn for business, because of China's growing economy, expanding middle class and burgeoning population.

"To really add value, or give yourself an advantage, the one I would pick is Chinese.

"It's what kids today should consider learning, for business reasons."

Both business leaders commended anyone learning a second language, even Latin. It was once compulsory in some schools, but last year only 328 sat NCEA Latin, keeping it in the top-10 ahead of Tongan, Niuean, Cook Island Maori and sign language.

O'Reilly said there were many advantages to learning Maori, even in business.

"By learning Maori, you probably have a better understanding of New Zealand and, at the end of the day, if you are going to go into international business, the number one thing you need to understand is your own country."


FOR A Cambridge family making and manufacturing toys in China, learning Mandarin has helped turn the business into child's play.

Anna Mowbray, 27, and her brothers, Nick, 25, and Matthew, 30, and cousin Simon Rushbrooke, 35, set up their business, Zuru Toys, in Guangzhou in 2005. Since then, their staff numbers have more than tripled to about 320 and turnover has more than doubled each year.

Anna Mowbray, speaking from China, said having a better grasp of the language at the beginning would have helped the business grow more quickly.

She said speaking the language provides an advantage in any deals and would be a priceless skill for anyone planning on doing business in China.

The family now has some basic language skills but still hires translators regularly for transactions. This was expensive and a cost which better language skills could eliminate, she said.

"Knowing the language earns you a lot of respect in China; it opens so many doors."

Zuru toys sell in about 40 countries world-wide, including most major outlets such as The Warehouse in New Zealand, the United Kingdom's Tesco, Sainsbury's, and America's Wal-Mart and Toys R Us.

Mowbray has heard many horror stories about companies which were "burnt" in China because of language difficulties and is aghast so few Kiwi high school students are learning Chinese.

Although English is becoming increasingly common in China, and was compulsory for students, Mowbray said New Zealanders needed to do their part by learning the language of their trade partners.

"Anyone wanting to make their mark in business has to know Chinese. China is currently at the hub of manufacturing world-wide and it's always going to be a major player."

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