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Interview with Laytee George

Laytee George’s involvement with Chinese language teaching in Rotorua goes back 20 years.

At the time, she found the Chinese language scene in the Rotorua region was limited to native language students learning Chinese on a Saturday morning.

“And they were struggling,” Laytee says. “There was nothing else around for New Zealanders.”

In the late 1990s, Laytee was invited to teach Chinese at a local polytechnic, mainly at an introductory level for hotel reception students of tourism.

Inviting the trail blaze

“I realised then that it would make more sense to foster Chinese language learning at a much earlier age and ensure there was a flow from schools that fed into tertiary institutions,” she says.

“So I invited Principals in Rotorua to trail blaze for Chinese. Schools jumped at the offer and Chinese language learning blossomed from there.”

“The growth was tremendous. I was living out of the back of my car, running from school to school teaching Chinese. Since the introduction of the Chinese Language Assistant programme three years ago, schools have long term sustainable programmes in place.”

Today Rotorua has 29 New Zealand teachers facilitating Chinese, with the assistance of 3 Chinese assistants, to about 2,000 New Zealand children in 7 schools.

Trilingual – a natural progression

For Laytee, who was born in Malaysia, being trilingual comes naturally. “Where I grew up it was like a united nations every day. But in New Zealand we don’t speak to people in their own language. It’s not a reality for us yet.”

“Working towards a focus on students becoming trilingual is a natural progression for New Zealand,” she says.

“We need to look at learning other languages alongside our own as an important way of enhancing our own language and culture.”

Why Chinese?

“Right back to the 1970s I can remember hearing about the importance of Asia and the Pacific Rim to New Zealand,” Laytee says.

“New Zealand must look at its historical links. We’ve had over 50 years of an intimate history with Asia, of being friends with China. We have a rich Asian human resource right here. New Zealanders have a right to know about those links and explore them. Language is the bridge to do that.”

“The good thing is that we’re increasingly multinational in our schools and students are now learning from each other and becoming more culturally aware.”

Making Chinese language learning easy

“Chinese is typically thought of as a hard language to learn, but it’s now being made much easier with the improved use of second language teaching methodology,” says Laytee.

“It’s important for teachers to use second language learning methods to enhance their teaching. By doing this we’re now getting feedback from students who say it’s easy.”

Laytee has also seen the value in students being given the opportunity to shape how Chinese is taught: “I now have intermediate students making resources for the following year’s students. Students themselves can help direct what the next group of students can learn by sharing what worked and what was fun for them.”

Why we need a growing pool of language teachers

Laytee also talks about the importance of a more diverse range of New Zealand teachers taking up the opportunity to teach Chinese.

“It’s important that students see themselves reflected in the classroom. With New Zealand and Chinese teachers modelling Chinese it shows that you can be from any nationality and be able to not only speak the language but have a potential job future with it.”

“I have students who have studied Chinese from school through to university. They can see themselves in China, doing business or teaching there. One girl even has a goal to become New Zealand’s Ambassador to China.”

“By fostering the growth of Chinese language teachers, and helping to create a diverse pool of those teachers, you’re creating sustainability in learning and teaching Chinese and ultimately sustainability in your own job whilst helping the community.”


  • Ensure teachers are really aware of how to teach a second language. Using effective second language teaching methodologies is so important for helping students access the language.
  • Get students involved in shaping how Chinese is taught. One idea is to get students involved in shaping resources for their own learning. Tailoring lessons to meet student needs is important to keep students engaged and lessons relevant.

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