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Growing desire to learn about Asian cultures and languages

Survey shows growing desire to learn about Asian cultures and languages
31 March, 2014

The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s annual Perceptions of Asia survey has found that New Zealanders consider Chinese the most valuable foreign language to learn.

Almost all (93 percent) people polled in the survey — New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples in 2013 — thought it was valuable to learn another language. Of those, 64 percent thought Chinese would be valuable to learn, followed by Japanese (31 percent) and Spanish (22 percent).

People felt it was worthwhile to learn Chinese because of New Zealand’s trade links, the fact it is a widely spoken language, and because they felt it would enable New Zealanders to understand Chinese people more easily.

The survey reveals a gap between the languages considered the most valuable to learn and those widely taught in New Zealand schools. Chinese is the fifth most commonly studied language in New Zealand secondary schools.

Asia New Zealand Foundation director of research Dr Andrew Butcher says the question about language learning was included for the first time in the 2013 survey, as a way of measuring how much effort New Zealanders were willing to invest to increase their knowledge of Asia.

“The survey shows a clear discrepancy between those who think Chinese is important to learn, and those who are actually learning it.

“It also reveals a gap between New Zealanders’ recognition of the importance of Asia to New Zealand’s future, and their confidence in interacting with the region.”

Four out of five people (80 percent) polled in the 2013 survey believed Asia was important to New Zealand, up from 77 percent in 2012. But two-thirds said they knew only a little or almost nothing about the region.

Sixty-three percent of survey respondents believed more should be done to help New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions. Participants interviewed in the follow-up forum said they wanted more general knowledge about Asia and a better understanding of lifestyles and cultures.

Asia New Zealand Foundation chairman Philip Burdon said the Foundation had been carrying out regular research since 1997 to measure perceptions of the peoples and countries of Asia.
“Over the years, the surveys have reflected a growing appreciation of Asia’s economic importance to New Zealand.

“This latest survey shows an increased desire among New Zealanders to learn more about the cultures, traditions and languages of Asia. This cultural understanding is going to be increasingly important if New Zealand is to have constructive long-term relationships with Asian countries.”
The 2013 survey also included questions on investment and real estate. Most New Zealanders (75 percent) agreed it was good for the New Zealand economy to have Asian companies investing in New Zealand businesses – an increase of five percentage points since last year. However, those interviewed in a follow-up forum felt that ownership and control of assets and organisations should remain in New Zealand.
The survey also found that nationally, New Zealanders were more likely to disagree (43 percent) than agree (33 percent) that rising house prices were due to Asian people buying properties. But the opposite was true in Auckland – Aucklanders were more likely to agree (46 percent) than disagree (31 percent) that Asian people were responsible for rising house prices.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to building New Zealand’s links with Asia through a range of programmes, including business, culture, education, media, research and a Leadership Network. The Foundation is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year.

The report includes a panel discussion about the survey findings, in which Dr Andrew Butcher interviews Dr Tahu Kukatai (University of Waikato); Dr Jason Young (Victoria University of Wellington) and Tony Browne (chairman of the Contemporary China Research Centre). In this podcast, they discuss attitudes among Māori about Asian immigration, attitudes towards investment from Asia, and whether second language learning should be compulsory.

To read the full report and the accompanying podcast:

About the survey

New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples in 2013 was prepared for the Asia New Zealand Foundation by Colmar Brunton. The results are based on 1,000 telephone interviews carried out between 1 August and 5 September 2013, and a follow-up online forum. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.


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