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Mandarin programme sweet for region’s kids

Wairarapa’s four Mandarin language assistants, Xushu Xia, left, Jinting Wang, Lian Liu and Xiuyu Chen. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

ELISA VORSTER
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Hundreds of pupils in Wairarapa are embracing the Chinese language and culture, thanks to the four Mandarin language assistants based in Wairarapa.

South End School principal Clare Crawford had seen first-hand the benefits of having one of the teachers in the classroom from her time at Kahutara School, but said it was the first time Carterton had been given the opportunity to have one.

The four teachers came to the region as part of a scheme organised through the Confucius Institute at Victoria University, in partnership with Xiamen University.

“I thought, ‘Let’s apply and see if we can get them to the Carterton area’,” Crawford said.

“The idea is we give the students a taste of Mandarin.

“They’re sharing their language and culture, and in turn [they] get a taste of our life as well.”

The scheme means children could get exposure to a language most schools wouldn’t ordinarily have the budget to cater for.

The schools responsible for hosting the language assistants are Featherston School, Solway College, St Mary’s School and Opaki School, but Crawford said 16 schools across Wairarapa were reaping the benefits of the scheme, as the four teachers travelled among participating schools.

“It’s amazing for our small area,” she said.

Crawford said her school was “very fortunate” to have 25-year-old Jinting Wang teaching at the school for the 2018 school year.

Wang, a student majoring in teaching Mandarin as a second language, said she loved the countryside scenery which came with living in Wairarapa.

She and the other three assistants had only briefly met in Beijing before coming to New Zealand in January.

But the foursome became fast friends and even went on a tour of the South Island together last term break.

While Wang was enjoying her new-found New Zealand life, she was still getting used to a few cultural differences.

For starters, she was amazed by the variety of sauces Kiwis put on their chips, and hadn’t quite mastered Kiwi English yet.

“Funny eh, cool eh – I can’t understand what the ‘eh’ means,” she said laughing.

She said the children she taught were “curious” about everything she had, ranging from the shoes she wore to the type of computer tablet she had.

“Every time I come to the classroom I think maybe I should bring something different.”

She has shown the children photos of sights they had never seen before, including a photo of the Forbidden City in Beijing, which astonished them with the symmetry of the buildings.

She said the classrooms in New Zealand were quite different from China, with children in New Zealand being able to sit on the mat and move around as opposed to being stuck behind the same desk all day.

Wang said Chinese schools also had a different teacher for each subject, even at a primary school level.

She had been teaching the pupils Mandarin through games and songs, including the Mandarin version of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ for a special school assembly.

Crawford hoped people would realise the “wonderful opportunity” this was for the region and hoped to see the programme continue to grow.

“We can’t thank Confucius Institute enough for what they’re doing for us.”

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