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Henderson Intermediate

Henderson Intermediate has a comprehensive languages programme which requires students to choose which language they want to learn in language classes that run for two hours each week.

Henderson introduced Chinese to the languages programme two years ago. It now involves three classroom teachers supported by a Mandarin Language Assistant.

The value of a Chinese language assistant

The latest addition to Henderson’s Chinese language programme is the arrival of a Mandarin Language Assistant.

Han Juan, or Judy, is one of six Chinese language assistants who are in New Zealand schools as part of a joint partnership between the New Zealand and Chinese Education Ministries.

Judy has been at Henderson Intermediate since March 2010 and will stay for the remainder of the school year.

The role of the language assistant

Judy’s role is to help classroom teachers teach Mandarin more effectively. This involves providing information and insight into Chinese culture and language, providing accurate pronunciation and intonation, and developing resources.

Judy says that she’s keen for students to know more about China. “My aim is to ensure the children are interested in not just Chinese language, but the culture as well. Otherwise there is the risk they’ll lose interest.”

Judy notices the different style of teaching in New Zealand compared to that in China. “It is much more student-centred here. In China we have big classes where we all learn together. Here it is more centred on smaller group learning.”

She also says that some things are the same. “With language learning in both China and New Zealand we want students to talk more. In both countries we know that in order for students to learn they need to start actually speaking a language and make a start with simple things.”

As part of her role, Judy observes the teachers in the classroom, and assists them with pronunciation when needed. She sees the experience as a two-way exchange: “I will learn from the teachers and they will learn from me,” she says.

Creating resources

Judy has already begun developing resources to support effective teaching and learning at Henderson.

One resource Judy has developed for use in Mandarin classes is a matching game. “Students have to match up the characters with the numbers and letters. I have also used a paper cutting matching game with beautiful pictures of animals which shows some of the beauty of the culture as well.”

A classroom partnership

Edward Walker is one of the classroom teachers who work with Judy. He confirms the value of having a native speaker able to assist in the class. “It makes such a difference having Judy around as she helps with the sounds and tones, and can provide a more in-depth level of insight into Chinese culture,” Edward says.

Edward himself began teaching Chinese at Henderson after undertaking the scholarship at Peking University. While he had second language teaching skills, teaching Mandarin offered some new challenges.

“I had some second language teaching skills with Spanish so was familiar with the techniques, but not with the Chinese language,” he says. “Chinese is much more complex, but has an exciting visual side to it.”

Edward has found Judy’s support really useful as he learns more of the language.

“Ongoing professional development is important. Judy’s presence really helps my own language competence as well that of the students. She has already really helped support the three teachers at the school. It’s great to have someone to practise with and share the load and resources.”


  • A Chinese language assistant can be a great way to help support the development of your school’s Chinese language programme. The Language assistant is available to support the teacher and assist with student learning. They can provide support with pronunciation, culture and activities.
  • Focus on a two-way exchange. The classroom teacher can learn from the Chinese Language Assistant and vice versa. Working together can really pay dividends for student learning.

Advise from the students

Ella, Zeyaad and Elizabeth tell us about their experiences learning Chinese.

Learning and practising

Ella started learning Chinese at the start of the year. “You get to learn words and practise how to greet people in Chinese. You learn the word and the meaning and then you practise by going up to the front of class,” says Ella.

A different perspective

Elizabeth is learning Chinese at Henderson Intermediate and says learning the language is fun. “It has been fun. The pronunciation side of it is very different to English.”

Elizabeth began learning some Chinese at home. “I began learning it last year. My mum taught me some. I can now speak some at home – more than I used to. I can use it outside of school too.” Learning the language forms part of Elizabeth's plans for the future. “I'm learning Chinese because when I'm older I want to go travel around Asia. And so I can communicate with my relatives from China.”

Interaction and variety

Zeyaad has started learning Chinese at Henderson Intermediate. “It's been pretty fun learning a complete new language,” he says. Particular highlights for Zeyaad are the interactive and varied ways in which his class learns Chinese.

“We have to learn how to greet each other. We have to catch the ball and introduce ourselves. We have to write the word and what it means. Then we go around the class and practise it. And we have to go to the front of the class and have a conversation with another person.”

Zeyaad's language experience has helped him pick up Chinese. “I know Hindi and English and that's helped me learn Mandarin.”

On why he is learning Chinese, Zeyaad’s explanation is straightforward. “Just to know the language itself is pretty good.” Zeyaad's advice to other students includes finding as many ways as you can to practise. “My Chinese friends are great because I can practise my Mandarin with them.”

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