Chinese is the mother tongue of almost a billion people and is the most spoken language on Earth.

And for English speakers Chinese is one of the hardest to learn.

But that doesn't stop more and more New Zealanders from embracing the six thousand-year-old language, like Tauranga Girls College student, Taniqua Whakaari.

"I've been interested in Chinese for years," Whakaari said. "And when I had the opportunity to learn it this year, I took it."


Her classmate Annabell Robinson also loves learning Chinese. She came second place in the New Zealand Chinese Calligraphy Competition.

"I think people exaggerate how hard it is," Robinson said. "It can be difficult with the characters and I think it's the different tones people struggle with the most."

"I visited China in intermediate on an exchange programme and just found it so amazing ... everything about it was so intriguing to me. I carried on learning in college and I just found I loved it more and more."

The growth in Chinese is starting in our schools.

Five years ago, 13,000 primary school students were learning Chinese. That's risen to more than 64,000, making it the fastest growing language taught in primary schools.

But the trend changes in high schools with less than 6,000 students learning Chinese, well behind other languages like French and Japanese.

Tauranga Girls College Mandarin teacher Li Feng-Brignall hopes that number will rise.

"I always encourage the girls here to learn Chinese, even though there are other subjects on offer," she said.


"More Chinese people are travelling to New Zealand and more people in New Zealand are doing business with Chinese people now. So learning Chinese is helpful for those people to understand."

The number of native Chinese speakers is growing as well, with over 50,000 Chinese speakers in New Zealand, almost 7,000 of them born here.

Chinese classes for adults are frequently available, such as a free Mandarin class held every Thursday at the Greerton library in Tauranga. It's taught by legendary teacher Yu Jing.

Mrs Jing says motivation is the key to learning. She said students need to ask themselves why they are learning Chinese?

And she said don't be shy, speak the language and practise.

The good news is once the basics are mastered, students will be well on their way.

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