Key urges kids to learn Mandarin

PM keen to rope in some of the 250,000 New Zealanders of Chinese ethnicity to teach language in schools.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Prime Minister John Key wants more students to consider learning Mandarin.

And a Herald-DigiPoll survey shows a surprisingly high number of people, more than 25 per cent, would like Maori and a foreign language to be compulsory at school - although the majority prefer no compulsion.

The Prime Minister is visiting China this week.

He said the argument against teaching Mandarin was that there were not enough teachers "but I think that's not a very strong argument".

There were 250,000 New Zealanders of Chinese ethnicity, a great many of whom spoke Chinese and many of them would teach on a part-time basis, he said.

Any student going through school today, faced with the choice of learning Mandarin or another language, would be well served to think about learning Mandarin.

When he went to the Lantern Festival in Auckland, the Asia Foundation executive director John McKinnon had given the entire speech in Mandarin "and boy did he have the audience engaging".

Those in the audience who couldn't speak Mandarin had enormous respect for his capacity.

Mr McKinnon, a former ambassador to Beijing, learned Mandarin in the 1970s on a two-year intensive course in Hong Kong, and went straight to Beijing after that from 1978 to 1980.

He went back as ambassador in 2001 and four of the last five of New Zealand's ambassadors to Beijing, including incumbent Carl Worker, have spoken Mandarin.

Mr McKinnon said that when he was ambassador there were about 120 ambassadors and only 20 or so spoke Chinese - "just imagine a diplomat in New Zealand who didn't speak English".

- NZ Herald

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