Mastering Mandarin


RACHAEL BALLFifth-year student, Loreto College Bray, Co Wicklow


People complain about Facebook but it has its uses. I spent this morning chatting to my friend who’s teaching me Turkish while she improves her English. I Facebook her in Turkish and she comes back in English. It’s working well! I have a lot of friends in Turkey because I go there every summer with my family and have done since I was small. I love learning languages, especially when they present a bit of a challenge. That’s why I’m taking Chinese at school. That really is a challenge. I only have a few thousand more characters to learn.

I am learning my Chinese characters at a rate of 15 a week. My spoken Chinese is not bad because I have been learning for five years now. I can have a conversation in Mandarin. But I only know about 70 written characters so far and there are about 20,000. I might have to learn more than 15 a week to catch up.


Hung out in Greystones with my friends, listening to Leehom Wang. He’s a Chinese singer/songwriter. He was born and raised in America but he sings in Chinese. He mixes up Chinese traditional music with RB. He also does straight pop music. He’s an actor too.

Recently we’ve been watching some Chinese soap operas on the internet.

We watched one about a high school today. Last year I went to China with the rest of the girls in Loreto who are learning Chinese and we performed some Chinese music there. It was really amazing. We also spent some time with students in a Chinese middle school. Teenage culture is quite different to ours. They have a very different attitude to school work. When they are given work to do, they do it.

No one messes about. They don’t have Facebook either, there’s a lot of censorship. They do have their own social networking site though. It’s called Renren. I have a few more characters to learn before I can start using it.


I don’t do Chinese as a Leaving Cert subject because it’s not examined. I think it should be. Our relationship with China is growing and it’s a great language to learn. When we were offered the chance to study it in first year in Loreto Bray my father was very enthusiastic about it. He explained to me about how the Irish connection to China was growing. He said Mandarin was the language of the future.

I’ve taken lessons every week for five years now and I do exams that are internationally recognised. I’ll be taking my fourth exam at the end of the year.

In the meantime I’m in fifth year so I have to focus on a little thing called the Leaving Cert. As well as Turkish and Mandarin I’m studying Spanish and Irish, so I suppose you could say that I like languages.

Watched an episode of a Korean drama I’ve been following online. Just as good as any of the local soaps. My friends are into it too so sometimes we watch them together.


Paid a visit to the Confucius Centre in UCD. Outside of school, that’s the only place where I get to speak Chinese at the moment. We often visit the centre for cultural events, such as the Chinese New Year celebrations. There are 18 of us studying Chinese at Loreto. I hope to study Chinese at university and I might do it in UCD because they have a degree course in business with Chinese. Or I might study abroad.

I have my Chinese class tomorrow afternoon so I spent this evening learning new characters. It can be confusing because the same character pronounced with a different tone, has a different meaning. There are four different tones for each character. Tonight I learned the character for “ma” which is a question mark if you say it one way, but a horse if you say it another.

Finished the day with a new book by Linwood Barclay. He’s a mystery crime writer and I am absolutely obsessed with him. I’m ploughing through his books – this is the fourth.


Had my Chinese class at school today. We do it after school which is fine – I’m not exactly sporty so it doesn’t clash with anything. We are learning a new Chinese folk song at the moment. I have a big interest in Chinese music – the cultural aspect of learning Chinese has been the most interesting of all.

I followed the visit of the Chinese vice president to a certain extent – I am not that engaged with Chinese politics. I am more interested in the arts and culture of the country. I have a whole new set of characters to learn now but with a week until my next Chinese class I think I can take a break. I spent the evening watching reruns of Friends and spending my usual half-hour on the internet. I did spend a little time looking at the google translator for Chinese. I have never attempted to use it to cheat on homework but I’m interested to see how it works. You can get an installation that allows you to type Chinese characters – obviously a keyboard with all those symbols would be quite impractical.


Went into town after school to try on some clothes with my friends. We don’t buy though – not until we get home and then we buy online because it’s cheaper.

Spent some time last night chatting to my Turkish friend on Facebook. She’s very pressured at the moment because she has exams coming up. It just goes to show, there are big things happening in that part of the world but for many teenagers, the worries and problems are the same.


The weekend is coming and I will be out in UCD again to perform Chinese music with my classmates. I don’t know what I will do with all these languages. I hope someday to visit China again for a longer time and perhaps work there. All I do know for certain is that learning Chinese was a very good choice for me. I think all students should have the chance to study it because it’s such an interesting challenge.

I have a feeling that knowing this language is going to open many doors for me.



Korean soaps operas online, The Vampire Diaries


Linwood Barclay’s thriller, The Accident.

In fact, anything by Barclay.


Chinese pop star Leehom Wang


Facebook and Renren