Mandarin in secondary school?

(177 Posts)
Greythorne Mon 19-Mar-12 16:10:33

There's a big debate going on at our school (France) about whether Mandarin is going to be useful or not.

Obviously, there are those who think it is an absolute must as trade with China is going to increase in importance and that is will be much more useful thqn German (which is the MFL most often offered after English here(.

Whilst I agree with that, I did read an article (possibly in The Guardian, but can't find it now) which argued that as all educated Chinese will be speaking excellent English going forward, the really is little point especially as:

-- it takes years and years to reach a decent level
-- there simply are not enough teachers of Mandarin and so there's a reliance on student teachers who come on one year exchange programmes (no continuity)
-- the cultural barriers are so high for Euopeans that even with a few years of language learning, they will never be able to compete with Chinese students / adults who have been immersed in Western culture via media / formal learning for years

I don't want to take an anti-learning position, but I really am veering towards the idea that learning Mandarin is a pointless exercise.

Can someone please convince me?

Bonsoir Mon 19-Mar-12 16:20:34

Greythorne - I agree with you that teaching children Mandarin is a bit pointless unless they are fantastically motivated.

They will make very slow progress and, as you say, teaching resources mostly leave an awful lot to be desired. I would like my DD to do Spanish, German and Italian during her school career because I think that a grounding in each of these, with native speaker teachers, will enable her to get some grasp of each language and hold her in good stead for the future. Mandarin, on the other hand, she will only learn if she begs me for it!

sue52 Mon 19-Mar-12 16:37:35

In theory it sounds a great idea but Mandarin is an incredibly difficult language to master in school. I think you'll find that children taking GCSE and A level Mandarin in the UK are from a Chinese background. I would be more inclined to look for a school that offered at least two modern European languages.

Posey Mon 19-Mar-12 16:45:28

Dd goes to a state secondary. She is in year 10. There are 15 in her Mandarin GCSE class. 1 of them is of Chinese origin (but of Cantonese origin).
Most of them are on target for good GCSE results.

EdithWeston Mon 19-Mar-12 16:47:02

It doesn't take that long. The language has a simple structure, but it takes a lot of hard work as you have to learn so much by rote.

If you can't get the teachers, then it would be pointless to offer it. But staff availability aside, I really cannot see why not.

The cultural barriers one would face doing business in China would be much higher if you also had no knowledge of the language.

Fraktal Mon 19-Mar-12 16:50:48

I would be for it as an exercise in learning a very foreign language, against it from a utility point of view. It depends what you want the DC to gain from the experience.

sue52 Mon 19-Mar-12 17:01:13

Really Posey? That's interesting , I stand corrected. Would you say her level and standard of conversational Chinese is about the same as a modern European foreign learned at the same time?

Posey Mon 19-Mar-12 17:18:21

Really hard to say sue52
She has been predicted A*/A in both Mandarin and Spanish (the school's compulsory language) and has been to both Spain and China with school where she spent time with families and made herself understood.
Tbh I have not a clue with Mandarin and it isn't something I can help with because all the characters etc make it impossible.

sue52 Mon 19-Mar-12 17:26:40

Thanks Posey. I asked DD's school a while back about Mandarin lessons for pupils. They were dismissive and rather put me off. It's very interesting hearing about your DD's positive experience.

Lizcat Mon 19-Mar-12 17:46:32

My DD is at a 3 to 18 school with a strong modern languages slant. She is currently in year 3 and has had 3 years of French, 3 years of mandarin and 1 year of Spanish. Despite large exposure to french ( we have french family) her mandarin is a long way ahead of her French and she can hold basic conversation in mandarin with correct tones. Her writing is just like a little Chinese girl's writing according to her native chinese teacher. Mandarin hits the button with some children like other languages do with others until you try you won't know. DD's school also suggest that mandarin is a language that suits children who are stronger in Maths and/or music this seems to be true of DD as she is G andT in Maths.
Yes most Chinese people do speak English, but surely it is polite that if we are going to do business with the Chinese we at least try and communicate with them in their language some of the time.

blueshoes Mon 19-Mar-12 21:39:15

There is a bidding war for lawyers out in HK who are UK-trained but can speak Mandarin. They might only attain a certain level learning Mandarin in UK but if your dcs are prepared to move out to Asia, their standard will improve very quickly. There are amazing opportunities out there for Mandarin speakers.

If they learn from young, they will be more likely to pick up the correct intonations. It is not a difficult language. They don't have to reach native speaker fluency in the written language (lots of translators for that).

Bonsoir Tue 20-Mar-12 07:18:02

I went to a presentation last night at a renowned Paris school that has a very wide range of languages on offer, including a section orientale (sort of reinforced Mandarin). Several times during the presentation the head reiterated that the level of fluency of a pupil in Mandarin after a few years of study was not going to be as great as in English or German or Russian (let alone the easy languages - for French people - of Spanish and Italian). The standard pupils are expected to attain in the their bac in Mandarin is lower than for English or German.

MoreBeta Tue 20-Mar-12 07:29:15

Teaching children Mandarin in the UK is an utter and total waste of time.

It is a very hard language but frankly the bigger issue is that China will collapse economically under the weight of corruption and communism in the next few years. All the excitement will die away about China - just as it did with Japan. It is only a matter of time. Mandarin will not be a useful language then. On top of that, you will never be competent enough unless you live there for years to actually operate in the language much beyond uttering halting broken phrases.

I have made sure DS1 gets into Spanish classes at school as his first choice language. It is a much more useful language. Spoken across South America and a large part of North America.

Bonsoir Tue 20-Mar-12 07:53:19

Spanish is useful but I would hesitate to teach children Spanish as their first MFL as it is one of the easier MFLs for English-speakers. It makes sense to start the harder ones earlier.

Am quite interested in Portuguese, personally, though schools don't offer it much here in Paris. Brazil is a very interesting country IMO.

PushedToTheEdge Tue 20-Mar-12 09:50:21

Learning the language itself isn't particularly useful since, as it has already been pointed out, they will speak English better so the 'common' language will invariably default to English.

Having said that, it is not just about acquiring language skills. I am of course assuming that the Mandarin classes will also cover culture, food, history, current affairs and the like. I am sure that your Chineses businessman/shop keeper/waiter etc will appreciate the fact that you have an understanding of their world and that you don't end up ordering Bannana Fritters in Syrup (its not a real Chinese desert despite what is on your Four Seasons Take Away menu smile )

OneLittleBabyTerror Tue 20-Mar-12 09:58:33

Mandarin can be useful even if you aren't very very fluent in it. Like another poster has pointed out, if you go and live in China, your language ability will improve a lot. Also, even if your LO will be UK based but do business with The Chinese only, it still helps. Learning a language in school isn't just learning the grammar. There is always an element on understanding a culture. Also if you go to China for meetings or short work trips, knowing a bit of Chinese will make your life so much easier. Simple things like being able to read a street sign (as the alphabet is so different it is not like reading a street sign in french), reading a menu, asking for a cup of tea at a small local cafe etc etc. Well educated Chinese may speak English, but you can guarantee the mass can't.

For a real life story. DH and I went to Japan 1.5 years ago. All the big train stop has romanised names. But the big train map where you pay for tickets in a lot of stations are only in kanji (ie Chinese). A lot of the bus stops are the same. I found it incredibly helpful that I can read the kanji of station names (DH can't compare two sets of Chinese characters written down effectively at all). I also got us to alight at the right bus stop for a temple because I recognised the name of the temple in kanji on the bus stop. Its very very useful.

Don't dismiss the chance for your LO to learn such a different language.

OneLittleBabyTerror Tue 20-Mar-12 10:02:19

Forgot to add I'm a native Cantonese speaker so I'm biased. And also I don't know any Japanese so while in Japan I'm reading the signs like an English would do for French ones.

Cortina Tue 20-Mar-12 10:10:42

MoreBeta I can't agree. America is the biggest debtor nation in the history of the world & the West sadly now in terminal decline IMO.

There will be many bumps in the road for China but my view is that their star is definitely on the ascendant.

I also think a willing graduate with some Mandarin & Chinese cultural awarness will have an edge over another without knowledge in time especially if they are prepared to work in Asia.

Some have moved their families to Asia purely so children can become proficient in Mandarin. As someone wiser than me said if you were smart in the 19th Century you moved to England, in the 20th Century to America & China/Asia in the 21st century. Time will tell of course but my gut tells me we've got very worrying times ahead of us here in the UK.

shoobidoo Tue 20-Mar-12 10:35:20

I think speaking one foreign language well will be more advantageous than speaking many to a very basic level. So choose the language your kids are likely to be able to practice the most. We, for example, have German relatives and spend summers in Germany and winter holidays skiing in Austria - so our kids are finding learning German quite fun and 'useful'. Our ds is even considering studying (Sciene/Engineering) in Germany or Switzerland.

Equally,hose families that have Chinese relations or have the chance to live/work there will obviously benefit from learning Chinese and will find it a lot easier than someone learning Mandarin in isolation in the UK for example.

In other words, I would choose a lanugage that you as a family are able to 'support' in some way.

MoreBeta Tue 20-Mar-12 10:59:06

China does not want foreigners working in China. It does not want foreigners investing their for a financial return. It wants our knowldege but it does not intend to pay for it or for us to earn a profit at their expense.

China has millions of peasant workers who will work for $1 per day or starve. Why on earth would it want anything to do with us other than be a market for its goods? Simple as. Don't be fooled.

OneLittleBabyTerror Tue 20-Mar-12 11:04:37

MoreBeta I saw this on the register earlier this month - here.

They are hiring IT managers to work in China if you can speak mandarin. But I think more realistically it's about selling our products there. Apple is doing a great job at the moment. For example, it's so sought after in China that if you buy from HK you need to have a HK ID card, to stop you taking it to China. Our luxury brands like Mulberry are doing very well too. No one says the future will be easy, and that the Chinese are easy to make money from.

PushedToTheEdge Tue 20-Mar-12 11:09:21

Why do I get the impression that you aren't a Chinaphile grin

"Why on earth would it want anything to do with us other than be a market for its goods?"

You mean, unlike all those benevolent British multi-nationals operating in Africa? grin grin some MNetters really crack me up.

MoreBeta Tue 20-Mar-12 13:13:39

PushedToTheEdge - yes China looks at the World exactly exactly like the British Empire did. Totally Mercantilist in its outlook. It sees other countries in two dimensions, either they ar ethere to exploit for resources or to sel its products into. Its own people are merely units of centrally planned production working in dreadful conditions. Think Victorian mill workers living in slums and that is a pretty close analogy.

Anyone who is anyone in China is sending their children to be educated and to live abroad and also sending their capital out of the country ASAP. The amount of capital flight form China is huge. Local people are not investing. They may be borrowing from local bankings but any real cash they make they immediatley turn into gold or try and depoist it abroad. There are huge numbers of riots going on in the countryside in China we never see. The place is very unstable. It has no reliable rule of law and the banking shystem has huge amounst of unpaid debts building up from local authority and property developer loans that have gone bad.

PushedToTheEdge Tue 20-Mar-12 13:40:06

I'm talking about stuff more recent as opposed to the Empire era. For example European and American defense companies sell weapons to countries that then use the weapons to suppress their own people.

I am not saying that the Chinese government are wonderful people. I'm just saying that they are functioning in the same way as many Western governments.

As for riots, I do recall reading about one of two minor skirmishs recently here in the UK grin

myron Tue 20-Mar-12 13:56:57

We want/need to sell our products there - it's a huge market with a growing middle class. Knowledge of Mandarin will only be an advantage - even with the perceived difficulty in learning it. How times have changed. It was only a few years ago that we were having a laugh about Chinese made cars - look at the market now - they are/will be serious competitors in our domestic markets soon. We need to compete in theirs!

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