good news or bad?

February 26th, 2008

I don’t know what to make of this report– is it good news or bad? Does it signify a huge opening in the market, a potential economic opportunity for my wife and myself? Or should we take it as a warning to just stay here- Kiwis ain’t interested in learning Chinese, for whatever bizarre reason? The two people quoted are interesting: First is Nora Yao, director of Auckland’s Confucius Institute:

Ms Yao said: “I guess New Zealanders have lived in a society that is monolingual for so long that it is hard for them to see the importance of learning a language other than English.”

Well, yes, and then again, no, not quite… We’re all exposed to Maori from a very early age, and there are many Kiwi kids growing up with languages other than English in the home or not too far away. But then again, New Zealand is just as hopeless as the other Anglo-Saxon countries with language learning.

Next is principal of Belmont Primary School, Bruce Cunningham:

“We can’t find the time to fit it into our busy curriculum, and also it’s not easy finding a teacher who is proficient in teaching Mandarin,” he said.

A perfectly valid statement. The only question is: Can we take this at face value, or is he making excuses? I suspect, though, that we can and should accept this reason for not teaching Mandarin. It’s hard enough finding properly qualified Maori teachers, let alone trying to introduce a foreign language.

But there is one really huge question in my mind that has gone both unasked and unanswered in this article: What about the teaching methods? Are the Confucius Institute teachers using the traditional, teacher-centred, “shut up, listen and copy” approach that is still so infuriatingly common in China, or are they using more modern, more effective, student-centred methods? And are they making any attempt to adapt to New Zealand culture, and more importantly, New Zealand’s very multi-cultural environment? Answers to these questions would tell us far more about the reasons for the Confucius Institute’s lack of success than a quote from a primary school principal.

But it’s not those glaringly obvious questions left unasked and therefore unanswered that infuriate me most about this article: It’s the first sentence. Really, has the Herald started hiring 12-year-old boys? Or has New Zealand’s wannabe paper of record let its standards slip so low that blatantly racist jokes are acceptable openings to articles? And how the hell do you go from a stupid, childish “Confucius say” joke to the second sentence:

That is probably what the great Chinese philosopher would say if he were alive today – going by the experience of staffers at an Auckland Chinese institution named after him.

No, he wouldn’t say that, and if you’re aware of the fact he’s a great philosopher, why do you treat him with such incredible disrespect?

Anyway, what should lzh and I read into this? Is there a desperate need for decent Chinese teachers in New Zealand? Should we rush off to get ourselves qualified then head back to New Zealand to cash in on this need? Or should we assume the opposite?

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