Nǐ Hǎo from Park Road!
Thursday, 23 January 2014
‘Nǐ hǎo’ is a phrase that any of the pupils from Park Road Junior Boys’ School would be able to recognise and translate. It means ‘hello’ in Mandarin Chinese.
Since September, the boys from all year groups have been enjoying one half-hour lesson per week with Ceci Cui from the Confucius Institute in Manchester. It took a few sessions for Ms Cui to find the level of the students, due to the cultural difference between China and the UK, but now they are picking up the language very well.
The Year 4 classes are able to recognise and pronounce the different tones on vowels, which alter the pronunciation and can make all the difference to the meaning! These are differentiated by accents above the vowels when the words are written using the Latin alphabet rather than in Chinese characters, and the children were able to name them all correctly. They quickly picked up the lyrics to the Chinese ‘Happy New Year’ song – ‘Xīn Nián Hăo’ in Chinese – and were able to sing all the way through by the end of their lesson.
Year 3 boys should also be proud of their progress: they have already performed a song entirely in Chinese in front of an assembly!
In December, at the end of his visit to China, Prime Minister David Cameron urged all schools to consider Mandarin as a language option for their pupils, either in addition to or instead of the European languages which have been the traditional selection. He flagged China as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, one which our young people should be prepared to engage with, and pointed out that speaking someone else's language is a great way to build a personal connection. As Nelson Mandela said, “'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; if you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
It is highly unusual for Mandarin, or any form of Chinese, to be taught in schools, particularly below A-Level. However, the British government is hoping to change this by encouraging more children and young people to speak the language and even to study in China.
The Junior Boys’ School is already working on this, with plans to make Mandarin part of the curriculum for Years 3 to 6. Ms Cui is leading all of the classes this year with Mr Colin Hough, one of the Junior School teachers, acting as her assistant. However, the plan for next year is for Mr Hough to take over and teach the boys himself. He has already done a sixteen-week course in Mandarin at the Confucius Institute, and is looking forward to running the lessons himself next year.