Mandarin may yet be taught in schools, says Minister


THE PROSPECT of languages such as Mandarin being taught in school should not be ruled out, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said.

Diplomatic and trade ties between Ireland and China had strengthened greatly and it was important to keep pace and plan strategically around these developments by building a better understanding of China, the Minister said.

“An ability to communicate in Chinese and an understanding of Chinese culture are major advantages to doing business in China.”

At the publication yesterday of a report on the demand for Mandarin at post-primary schools, Mr Martin said policymakers in Ireland needed to be innovative when presenting languages such as Mandarin to students and developing such languages for the State’s schools and examination system.

“We tend to say ‘this is the way we teach French or German and therefore this is the way we teach any other language that comes along’,” he said. “We need to think outside the box in how we introduce students to new languages and in particular Mandarin.”

The study by the University College Dublin Confucius Institute – to which 181 post-primary schools contributed – found a significant demand for Mandarin and a perception that it would generate greater career opportunities and intercultural understanding.

Some 70 per cent of respondents said Mandarin classes could benefit students and one-third said it was important to include the language in the Junior/Leaving Certificates. However, 84 per cent felt there would be a dearth of staff expertise, while 59 per cent said students and teachers might not be interested in the subject.

The study concluded that there was potential to take a planned, co-ordinated approach to developing the subject here. It said, however, that given existing pressures to learn English and Irish that Mandarin would most likely be welcomed as a transition year or extracurricular programme.

China’s ambassador to Ireland, Liu Biwei, said he was pleased to see an increasing number of Irish people taking an interest in the Chinese language and that he hoped more Chinese people would develop and interest in Irish, which was the more difficult language. “Let’s work together and enhance our understanding of one another,” Mr Liu said, through an interpreter.