Leaving Cert mandarin Chinese: ‘More complex than in previous years’

Students needed to have a comprehensive grasp of the language

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The Leaving Cert higher level Mandarin Chinese exam was “more complex” than in previous years and required students to have a comprehensive grasp of the language.

Yun Wu, a Chinese teacher at the Institute of Education, said the exam called for a mixture of essential skills and a more mature connection of language and culture.

The exam – the third ever sitting of Mandarin Chinese for the Leaving Cert – tested students’ skills and knowledge with different angles on reading, grammar and vocabulary.

While there were some minor changes to the paper, as was expected, they did not increase the difficulty.


Section A

Ms Wu said the reading in section A opened with a “very nice” question one which focused on weather, time and numbers.

“The questions were clear and tested some very practical knowledge: essential if a student were ever to visit China,” she said.

Question two on animals that are national treasures showed that the exam setters “really considered” the cultural background of the students,” Ms Wu said.

“The material connected the iconic Chinese image of the panda with the black and white fleece of Irish lambs,” she said. “This examined vocabulary of colours and the body within the context of the culture for which this exam was designed.”

Question 2 (E), she said, was “excellent” as it tested students’ grasp of the logic of the Mandarin language by making sure they understood the radical of each character.

“This means that students not only needed to know what to say but why they say it like that,” she said. Knowing this information will help students have a solid foundation for further study.”

Question four was a translation question, which appeared for the first time at higher level. While this tested an essential skill, she said 4 (F) required a more mature understanding to answer.

“Students were asked to compare the approaches to email writing in English and Chinese,” Ms Wu said. “New learners might struggle to fully grasp the different intentions, while those who grew up with the language might struggle to verbalise something they might subconsciously feel through English. The question was very doable but posed an interesting and fair challenge to students of all backgrounds.”

Section B

The writing opened with three very practical writing prompts, Ms Wu said.

“The first two were about invitations and meetings and thus emphasised a series of expressions likely to be used in day-to-day life,” she said.

“Question five (C) asked students to write a long message to their friends in a way that probably is not true to life for the modern teenager, but the theme and vocabulary was very fitting. Students who were a little uncertain in how to approach the format could look back to the email in Question 4 as a helpful hint.”

She said the longer compositions of question six continued this approach of building the questions around the lives of students.

“6 (A) was a new topic for the exams, festivals, but an open-ended question meant a student could express their culture in any way they wished,” she said. “Chinese new year, mid-autumn festival, St Patrick’s Day and Christmas were all equally good choices here, so students should be very pleased.”

Option (B) echoed material prepared for the oral’s language portfolio section, only updating the material to reflect their completion of their secondary school studies.

“Option (C) asked about the student’s family, which should be very familiar territory. This is the kind of vocabulary that teachers often cover at the beginning of a student’s education in Mandarin, so students could draw on some fundamental material,” she said.

Overall, Ms Wu said this was a more complex exam than previous years as students needed to have a more comprehensive grasp of the language.

“However, this was made more approachable by making sure so many questions were rooted in the real experiences of a student of Mandarin Chinese in Ireland.” she said.