Chinese social media sites proving useful tool as demand for learning language increases

New Zealanders are looking online to social media to learn Mandarin as the country's economic relationship with China deepens.

While centres teaching Chinese are reporting an increase in enrolments of up to 70 per cent in the past few years, some Kiwis are also learning in their own time over the internet.

Aucklander Simon Young, 39, was spurred to learn Chinese four years ago when he was asked to run a workshop in Shanghai.

He took three formal lessons, but did most of his learning through language exchange conducted on Chinese social media sites like microblogging service Weibo.


He filled out his profiles to show that he was a Kiwi learning Mandarin and was keen to practice what little he knew.

"What always used to strike me is I live in central Auckland and you can walk down any street and see a whole bunch of Chinese people. But it was not socially acceptable to go up to a stranger and say, 'Ni hao' [hello]. But online that was kind of acceptable."

Mr Young was running SyEngage, a consultancy that helps New Zealand companies develop their brands online, and it now has a strong China focus. He ended up hiring employees who he had met over Chinese social media.

Pat English from the NZ China Council said more businesses had a need for Mandarin speakers, and the number of people who could do so was still too small in relation to the size of the trade relationship.

Numbers for Onehunga High School Adult Learning Centre's Chinese language classes have grown by almost 70 per cent. Director Linda Melrose said they had added Chinese business etiquette this year because of growing demand.

Beyond ni hao

* As the number of Kiwis wanting to learn Mandarin grows, some have begun using Chinese social media as a way to practice the language.

* New Zealand's economic links to China are growing, and Chinese tourists have overtaken the Japanese as having the highest spend per day average.