Would you consider learning a language, if it meant improving your job prospects nationally, internationally and globally? Would you consider learning a new language; if it made you one of the 1.3 billion, who speak it today (one fifth of the world’s population)? Finally, would you consider learning Chinese 中文? If we took heed of Economic forecasters who said: clever countries and individuals who embrace this language will have a huge economic edge; we might consider answering a resounding ‘Yes’ to all three of the above questions.
Of course, Secondary school pupils will be fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to study Chinese in the near future alongside other languages on their curriculum. It has recently come to fruition that this country via the Irish education system is about to fully embrace Chinese. Irish secondary schools are about to forge academic and cultural links with the land of the Dragon as part of their school curriculum. On May 3rd it was announced that a new Transition Year module is to be rolled out in Irish secondary schools today. Seemingly, it is just the beginning of a roll-out of Chinese studies throughout the Irish second-level education system. By 2014, pupils will have the option of studying the language and culture (starting with Junior Certs), with Chinese eventually becoming a choice for a Leaving Cert subject.
The Transition Year module has been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the UCD Confucius Institute; which promotes China-Ireland co-operation in business, education and commerce. The aim of the Transition Unit is to awaken curiosity in Chinese by introducing students to both traditional and modern aspects of its culture, with some language learning. There is much to be excited about in the way this new language is going to be delivered to students. Alongside teaching the language; students will be immersed in cultural aspects of China including: martial arts, tea-making, ancient Chinese medicine, paper-cutting and modern student life – all with the intent to promote awareness of Chinese language and culture.
Currently, only 22 of about 730 second-level schools are studying the Chinese language and culture as part of a pilot project. It was actually the success of this project that led to the collaboration between the NCCA and the Confucius Institute on a Transition Unit. It will be up to individual schools to decide whether to offer it as part of Transition Year and, in order to broaden its accessibility. The module has been designed to be taught by Irish teachers, supported by online materials, a DVD and a handbook. According to the National Centre Curriculum Assessment CEO Dr Anne Looney, ‘there is an enthusiasm in the 22 schools for studying Chinese and a high level of interest across the system in the subject’.
A new and intense interest in Chinese comes as Ireland is actively working on creating stronger trade links with the economic powerhouse. 2012 saw China’s vice-president Xi Jinping spend three days in Ireland in February, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny making a return trip to China in March. The primary aim of the new Transition Unit is to awaken curiosity in Chinese by initially introducing students to both the modern and traditional aspects of Chinese culture. The long term consequences of a student population at ease with speaking Chinese will be an added incentive to attract foreign investment from both China and other countries keen to trade with them also. Without doubt, a percentage of secondary level students will go on to study the language in higher education -consequently producing a rich picking of graduates for the new Chinese industries and business that will become a familiar presence throughout the country in the future. With projected further Chinese investment a certainty, there will be a consistent demand for graduates who have Chinese and Ireland will be hopefully be able to meet this demand.
In the past Enda Kenny made an announcement that it was up to individual schools whether they wanted to roll out Chinese as a language option. He believed it was a very difficult language to learn. He went on to say: ‘It is not as simple as learning a language with Celtic roots.’ He concluded that while it might be easy enough to grasp a conversational level of spoken Chinese, it would take ‘years’ to learn Chinese writing. He said that it was ‘up to schools’ what secondary languages they decide to teach.
However, a few months on, he has finally realised that it is this language that could become an economic weapon to negate against our rising unemployment rates and lack of foreign investment. He now knows through trade talks with China that we will be looking to supply many services to the Chinese over the next few decades. We therefore need a workforce with all the necessary language skills to facilitate this. Chinese is and will continue to be a dominant language. After all, there are now more Chinese people on-line than Americans!