An institute promoting closer ties with China hopes John Key's push for more Mandarin speakers will help it achieve its goal of getting 50,000 people learning the language by next year.

The Prime Minister said last week he would be pushing for more schools to teach Mandarin because learning the language was essential for a good business relationship with China.

China is now New Zealand's second largest trading partner and is predicted to eclipse Australia in the near future.

The Confucius Institute is holding a meeting this afternoon to discuss ways to train local teachers to teach Mandarin. The meeting will include representatives from the Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Chinese Language Association and a principal from a primary school offering Mandarin classes.

"New Zealand is slow in many things but we are happy that the country is finally waking up to the growing importance in Mandarin - and that there is now support from the Prime Minister," said Nora Yao, director of the Confucius Institute Auckland.

Of the 2500 New Zealand schools, only 89 taught Mandarin and it was only last year that more students took Mandarin than Latin.

China last month invested $250,000 to set up Confucius classrooms in six primary and intermediate schools - five in Auckland and one in Rotorua - to promote Mandarin and introduce Chinese culture and history.

The Confucius Institute conducts annual Chinese language camps, organises educational trips to China and organises cultural days, speech and essay competitions.

"Learning Mandarin is only a start, because developing a good relationship is just as vital to be successful in doing business in China," said Zhao Guocheng, deputy director of the Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing.