Chinese lessons to start next year

Pupils as young as nine will start learning Chinese from next year, a meeting of the education and families committee heard today.

Shetland’s bid to become part of the Confucius Classroom has been successful, it was confirmed last week, and planning for the innovative project will now start.

Jointly funded by the Chinese and Scottish governments, the move to introduce the Mandarin language and Chinese culture to the isles will not cost the local authority anything.

Global citizenship development officer for Shetland and Aberdeen Lewie Peterson said the prospect of the Confucius Classroom was “really exciting”.

Mr Peterson said: “It’s nice to have some positive news, it’s a really good opportunity. It’s uncharted territory for us and [something] exotic.”

Initially, one Chinese teacher and the teaching materials will be based at a “hub” in Sandwick Junior High School, but travel throughout the isles to other schools, teaching upper primary youngsters.

The project is expected to last two years, and an application can be made for a Chinese classroom assistant, if it is deemed desirable. Looking further ahead, partnerships between Shetland and Chinese schools could be set up.

Mr Peterson said he had heard from colleagues that the project was one of the best run and resourced to be involved in, and was also “very timely”, as the whole method of modern language teaching is currently being re-examined nationally.

Modern language teaching had previously concentrated on Europe, he said, but now: “We’re living in an increasingly globalised world. China will be the next superpower and it’s important to engage with the Chinese in business and environmental issues.”

He added that a lot of work between the Chinese and Scottish governments had already gone on, and Education Scotland was prioritising the Mandarin language in schools, as well as Chinese culture.

The details of the teaching, whether it will be in weekly classes throughout a term or in “blocks”, have yet to be worked out, and the planning stage is expected to take a year. The project will “start small”, said Mr Peterson, and will initially focus on schools that have shown an interest. One of these will be Mid Yell Junior High School, whose head teacher Mark Lawson visited China as part of the agreement about the Confucius Classroom. He will now be expected to help with the implementation of the project.

Councillor Peter Campbell said it was “very positive”, and councillor George Smith said it was a “massive project”.


Add Your Comment
  • Tom Jamieson

    • November 18th, 2014 9:17

    Whaur is da Shetland Dialect lessons or da Shetland culture and heritage lessons?! I only left school last year and I always wished fir lessons tae do we Shetland as dats whits going to keep wir identity at da forefront. I’ve always felt dat dirs too mony folk my age (19) dat are born tae Shetland parents, brought up in Shetland but dinna spik da dialect and it wid be a fine change if dat happened.

    • John Tulloch

      • November 18th, 2014 14:40

      Du’s fairly richt aboot dat,Tom!

      Bit I doot da teachers’ll be spaekin’ der lessons I’ Gaelic, if da SNP wins oot ida neist referendum?

      • Tom Jamieson

        • November 18th, 2014 22:54

        I’d prefer Gaelic or Norwegian tae bloody Chinese if i wis still at school!

        Schools need tae hae mare lessons aboot links and history of the place dey live in tae keep da traditional wye alive. Has tae be fundamental!

        But we dis cuts…

  • David Spence

    • November 18th, 2014 14:02

    I cannot for the life of me see this ever working. As far as I know, it takes the Chinese themselves over 10 years to learn their own language and writing. I believe their alphabet contains over 3,600 characters in it? We have only 36 characters in ours (if you include numbers) so god knows how long it will take you to master over 3,600.

    Is this a sign of things to come? I am not sure if this is appropriate, but isn’t there a saying about the world will come to an end when people from the far east rule ? lol (yes Haydn, it means Laugh Out Loud lol)

    I agree with Tom, and I would go further by getting every pupil to learn Norwegian, which I am sure would do them better than learning Chinese (restaurants aside lol)

  • Sandy McDonald

    • November 18th, 2014 19:03

    To be honest David you could argue it takes us Brits at least 10 years to learn our own language – many of us never really master it at all! But kids are much quicker on the uptake than adults – I say go for it, it will certainly be the language that is useful in business in the years to come.

  • Robert Duncan

    • November 19th, 2014 10:10

    I managed to post my comments about this under the wrong article…

    I think it’s fair to say I couldn’t disagree more with both Tom Jamieson and David Spence.

    On the former, I heard discussions mooted regarding the national “1 plus 2” language initiative, that Shetland might opt to deliver local dialect as the second additional language. I would see that as a complete cop out. Yes, we should absolutely teach about local heritage and culture, and groups like Shetland Forwirds do some great work, but to teach dialect in place of an actual modern language would be complete failing the children of Shetland. It isn’t difficult for those with an interest to learn more about it.

    For David Spence, yes Chinese is a very difficult language. Those learning it as a second language may never truly master it. However it is perfectly plausible for an adult to learn to acceptable spoken fluency within a year or two. We shouldn’t rule out the great benefits of learning another language even if it is not learned to complete fluency.

    • Tom Jamieson

      • November 19th, 2014 15:06

      David, I don’t want tae start an argument aa guns blazing, dy point is 100% valid but I’d lik tae point oot dat at Sandwick School when I wis in 4th year I did English, French, Spanish and a block o Italian. Da teachin wis top class and thankfully I cam oot we top grades fir dem. Da Anderson offers aa dose languages plus German. In my opinion, and maybe a peerie bit o da green eyed monster here seein as I niver got it, Shetland dialect definitely his tae be taught.

      Hits no joost aboot say dis word dis wye or dis word dis wye, its aboot learning how it aa evolved and how it aa cam tae be. Dats whit da young bairns ir missing. My sister is 14 and hardly spiks da dialect considering me, me folk and both sets o grandfolk and surrounding family ‘spik’ and no ‘talk’.

      It could be a fresh change dis Chinese but I tink it wid be a fresher change if it wis dialect. It is joost my opinion and lik I sed David dy point is completely valid.

      • Tom Jamieson

        • November 19th, 2014 15:08

        Sorry, I meant Robert!! Lang day!

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 19th, 2014 17:16

        But how do you think your sister’s position would change by it being taught in school? she has clearly grown up around it through your family, so lack of exposure surely cannot be the “problem”?

        I see dialect as something that occurs and evolves naturally. it is learned from spending time in the community, from talking with relatives and neighbours. I really don’t see why valuable school time and funding should be spent on it, given I see no issue with young folk that want to speak it being able to do so.

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 19th, 2014 18:06

        I think the bit that would really worry me with dialect being taught in schools is, who’s version of dialect would it be? The dialect spoken in Burra is totally different to that spoken in Whalsay is totally different to that spoken in Toab. My grandparents and their grandparents all spoke some variety of dialect, but because they all picked it up naturally, there are many different strains and varieties. Having a school teacher telling bairns how to speak would be a sure fire way to smother Shetland’s rich heritage in a blanket of monoculturism, instead of celebrating the great variety even in such a connected community.

      • Tom Jamieson

        • November 21st, 2014 14:20

        Robert, I feel dat if my sister wis taught in school den it wid come mare naturally and she wid start tae spik a lot mare. Dirs dat much influence noo fae TV and da internet fae folk no fae here dat aa da bairns here age talk and no spik… admittedly some might hae a hint o dialect or some might hae a hint o dialect when dey ir we grand folk awa fae dir pals.

        Certainly teachin da dialect fir da full blown year every year might no be viable but short courses might be da wye tae go… dat wye its teachers aaready in da school teach it fir wan term. So effectively hits lik a booster course or a starter course.

        As lang as dey wir spikin dialect it wid hoopfully mak dem appreciate da place mare. Too mony o dem hae da mindset o “hate this place” or “stuck on this rock, get me off” etc.

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 23rd, 2014 12:05

        I just don’t see it that way. I have young relatives who speak in dialect as much as you or me. It was primarily picked up naturally, but they did get opportunity to learn more about it in school. Just looking in the Times this week, there was at least two references to dialect in schools – one where some Shetland youngsters had received national awards for their dialect writing.

        There may be many who don’t speak dialect and have an attitude of “get me away from here”, but I’m not convinced that is anything new. It was the same for my generation, my mother’s generation and I would strongly assume my grandparent’s generation. That sort of thinking was a key theme of the 1937 film, The Edge of the World”, for example. Some people just don’t enjoy island life as much as others. It doesn’t mean those who do enjoy it and do take a keen interest in their heritage are less enabled to do so.

    • John Tulloch

      • November 20th, 2014 9:58

      Hello, Robert,

      I agree it’s good to be outward-looking, versus inward, and this will be an interesting experience for the kids. I’m not sure about teaching the language of commerce to nine-year olds, as opposed to (I understand) the more widely-spoken Cantonese, however, it’s costing the council nothing and will create a link between Shetland and China which could stand for a long time due to the fact that their government is part-funding it i.e. they want it to happen and to their credit – and Holyrood’s – it demonstrates their willingness to be outward looking, too.

      On Tom’s point, when I was at primary school, we regularly had lessons in Shetland culture/history and dialect, using literature and poetry from people like Vagaland and publications like “Eftir da Humin” much of which I can remember to this day and I think that’s important, too.

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 20th, 2014 17:14

        Mandarin/Putongua is the more widely spoken. Cantonese is only really spoken in the south of China, around Guangdong (historically Canton) and in Hong Kong and Macau. It’s increasingly rare that Cantonese speakers don’t also speak at least one of English or Mandarin, esspecially as Cantonese has no official status in mainland China.

        I agree local literature, heritage and culture should have a place in the classroom – I’d argue that they very much do already.

      • John Tulloch

        • November 20th, 2014 21:07


        I either agree or can’t disagree with more or less all your comments. We’re having Mandarin, partly funded by the Chinese government and that’s great.

        I suspect, however, much as Beijing may prefer not to support Cantonese, that it shouldn’t be dismissed, not least, since Hong Kong/Macau is an important business interface between Chuna and the West and a potential pioneer of democracy in that country, as well as it being widely spoken among the Chinese diaspora, across S.E. Asia.

        On your dialect point, we weren’t taught to speak it in school, we were introduced to it via local history, poetry and literature. As you suggest, that may well be being done at present – I hope so – however, I was unaware of my own kids having anything like that when they attended primary school in Shetland.

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 21st, 2014 0:09

        As I said, if you go out to Hong Kong and Macau, you’ll find that whilst Cantonese is the official language, it is increasingly rare that people don’t speak at least one of Mandarin or English. Most young people, and certainly those who have gone through schooling post-1997, speak all three fluently. In any business environment, Cantonese is rarer still.

        I would never rule out the value of learning Cantonese, but it is clear to me that Mandarin is of great value in vocational terms.

      • Robert Duncan

        • November 21st, 2014 0:10

        *greater value, that should say

  • David Spence

    • November 19th, 2014 12:13

    They do say learning any Asian language, is the hardest language in which to learn, especially in as short a time as 2 or 3 years. Lets assume you get 2 lessons of 1 hour a week, that would roughly be (taking away holidays) about 76 hours a year x 2, 152 hours to learn a highly complexed language as well as being fluent in the even more complexed writing. I think many students would find this very difficult. As well as this, like any language ‘ if you don’t use it, you lose it ‘.

    Robert, I am not questioning schools providing the means to learn a language. I just cannot see learning such a complexed language as Chinese or any other Asian language being justified in the Curriculum when other languages would be more appropriate. Spanish, for example, is very much widely spoken throughout the world, and, according to the latest figures, there are more people that speak Spanish than English in the United States. Chinese, whether Mandarin or Cantonese, is still, geographically, very much a localised language.

    • Chris Johnston

      • November 19th, 2014 14:45

      David, I agree with much of what you wrote but your statistic is incorrect. In 2010, 83.6% of the US population was not of Hispanic or Latino origin. English is still the majority language in the majority of the US.

  • john irvine

    • November 19th, 2014 13:36

    Who came up with this brainwave? what a total waste of time and someones money, all the same if they were going to teach Martian!

    I cant agree more with Tom`s comments and its good to see a young een we a bit o common sense on these forums.

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 19th, 2014 15:19

      What a silly comment. Fluency in Chinese is an immensely valuable skill.

      David, you make a fair point regarding Spanish, but that is not readily available funded from elsewhere. China has taken on an approach similar to the British Council in funding language development around the world. What I would also say is, I wholly expect the number of people who speak Mandarin and no English is greatly higher than the number who speak Spanish and no English. I also think you are wrong to consider it geographically isolated – it may only be a first language in (parts of) China but is very widely spoken, especially throughout Asia.

  • Haydn Gear

    • November 19th, 2014 15:15

    Having spent my working life teaching in schools and colleges, mainly in England, I am painfully aware that the knock on effects of poor standards in spoken and written English seriously hamper the learning of foreign languages.With some knowledge of Latin, pooh -poohed by some who know no better,European languages are fairly straightforward.When it comes to Chinese,Japanese, Urdu, Arabic and so on , it’s a totally different ball game.In fact,it would be a total waste of time and resources. Just because China is a growing economy , it doesn’t follow that the world’s peoples should set aside time to squander on a smattering of Chinese which will have no useful application.If they want to trade with the people who speak English (most of them) let them learn English!! It is mandatory for schoolchildren in Wales to be taught Welsh but success is limited to a very basic level and is essentially time and money down the drain—- unless 20% is considered a healthy situation!! This surely must be a government inspired initiative. Oh well, that explains it all.Bring on the sweet and sour and include some soy sauce in school meals!!

  • David Spence

    • November 19th, 2014 16:07

    ‘ In 2010, 83.6% of the US population was not of Hispanic or Latino origin. ‘

    I take your point Chris, but surely, in this case, ethnicity of a group of people does not necessarily indicate any reference as to whether or not a particular language is spoken. Afterall, there are many people from different cultures and countries here in the UK, and, I suspect, most of them do speak English? Mind you, I may have opened up a can of worms there lol

    According to some figures, there are nearly 500 million people that speak Spanish around the world. Nearly 51 million people speak Spanish in the United States (17% of the population) so, I stand corrected, Chris.

    • Chris Johnston

      • November 19th, 2014 17:21

      David, I live in the US and travel extensively both in the US and elsewhere. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in a few areas in the US (e.g Miami, parts of Los Angeles and Texas) but English is the most commonly spoken language. Most Spanish speakers not US natives pick up some English proficiency, and the next generation is typically fluent in both languages.

      According to Wikipedia:
      “A 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau, showed that Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35 million people aged 5 or older, making the United States the world’s fifth-largest Spanish-speaking community, outnumbered only by Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Argentina.”
      35 million is 11.3% of the 2010 US population.

  • David Spence

    • November 19th, 2014 16:39

    Just to throw a spanner into the works, so to speak.

    I think it would be easier for the Chinese to learn English (especially in certain industries where English is the preferred International Language e.g. being an International Aircraft Pilot) rather than the English to learn Chinese.

    When cost and time are limited, learning a language that would be easier for the students would be, I would say, the preferred option, rather than learning a highly complexed language that, lets be brutally honest here, they are unlikely to ever use.

  • David Spence

    • November 19th, 2014 19:32

    I very much take your point, Tom. However, if we really do want to learn the true Shetland language (and not a dialect) then I would suggest, to use an expression used by the vile Tories, we go back to basics, and learn Norwegian. I may be wrong, but I do believe the original language of Shetland was from North Norway?

    I would also say that learning Norwegian would have closer and greater ties to our true heritage and culture of what was, and I am not talking about going back to the Viking’s (Up Helly Aa excluded lol) and, I think, would be far more useful than Chinese in many respects.

    There is also the geographical location to take into consideration. Why do we learn French, German, Spanish, Italian and/or even Norwegian? Because they are geographically closer and many of these countries are part of the EU, so there is no real difficulty in getting to and from these countries.

    Taking a trip to China, would be far more expensive, possibly involving more than 1 flight? You may be limited to where you can go due to the political regime there. You cannot guarantee health conditions and adequate accommodation being to a high standard. I am not so sure as to the stability of the currency being used in China in proportion to International currencies. Even if you got to China, there is no guarantee the version of Chinese you learned would be 100% compatible with regional and localised dialects and/or accents……..which I presume they would have as well?

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 20th, 2014 17:24

      Tourism is one of Shetland’s biggest industries, and Chinese tourists are increasingly the “big spenders” in that industry. Even if we choose to reduce the benefit to purely vocational terms – which I think is very myopic – there are many to be felt even by those remaining in Shetland to live and work.

  • john irvine

    • November 19th, 2014 23:20

    Robert, there are many European langauges which would be far more beneficial to the young people than Chinese.

    Maybe you should think twice before posting silly comments.

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 20th, 2014 17:19

      That’s your own value judgement, I would strongly disagree. French will continue to be the first additional language anyway.

      The benefits of learning about such a distinct language shouldn’t be underestimated and could be very eye opening for children. Your “martians” comment seems staggeringly closed minded in comparison.

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 20th, 2014 17:20

      Other European languages are also not available with funding from a foreign government, so the “common sense” approach looks less sensible the more it is actually scrutinised.

  • David Spence

    • November 20th, 2014 19:23

    So Robert, what you are suggesting is everybody learns Chinese (with the very high probability they will never use it) because the Chinese Government partially funds the education programme?

    I would be more intrigued as to the Chinese Governments agenda in getting people to learn their language.

    I would say, in terms of economics, the Chinese learning English or any other European language would be far cheaper and more beneficial to the Chinese economy in terms of trade.

    It seems like teaching Chinese is the equivalent to ‘ trying to teach somebody how to fly a 747 before learning how to fly a small 2 seater Cesna aircraft ‘. It will take much longer, more expensive and a higher probability of failure.

    If it takes the Chinese themselves 10 years or more to learn their own language and writing, would you really think it financially viable to give the same credence of other nationalities to learn the same in 2 or 3 years or less?

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 21st, 2014 0:04

      The idea that they should just do all the hard work is just ridiculous to me. If that is how you feel about learning additional languages, so be it, but I don’t want to see my future children denied opportunities because of such closed mindedness. That almost suggests some superiority on the part of natural English speakers, that we should have some entitlement to have others speak our language.

      You keep repeating this “10 years” thing but that is just nonsense. Chinese children are not mute up to the age of 10. I have close friends who have learned to speak Mandarin to a fair standard in a matter of months (learning full time) or in two or three years (learning very much part time). I’m sure it is more difficult than European languages with shared roots, but that is no reason to rule out learning it.

      But again, I see vast benefits in simply learning more ABOUT the Chinese language, even if getting nowhere near fluency. It is so fundamentally different as to be an enlightening experience. Most children at that age would not realise that there are such different ways of approaching language, with nothing in Mandarin all that comparable to what we understand as an alphabet. There is an immense richness to Chinese languages, with characters having multiple meanings and short statements holding great poetic meaning. It’s not just about having children be able to command a taxi in Beijing, learning about the language could be a very valuable experience well beyond that. As somebody who often speaks the value of arts and creative industries, and decries capitalism and greed, I am disappointed to see you pedalling such as myopic and vocation-focussed view of language learning.

      My comments regarding funding are fairly simple, in my mind. We have a new national initiative in Scotland whereby children are required to receive tuition in two additional languages. One is taught from a very young age, through most of primary school and continued in secondary school. In most cases in Shetland that is French already and provision is well established. The second additional language has to be taught in late primary and is not required to be as in depth. It is more of a “taster”, so that those with a keen interest can seek out future opportunities if they so wish.

      Of course there is an agenda there. The Confucius Institute is doing precisely what the British Council has done for many years and continues to do now. It is greatly beneficial for them to have people around the world speaking their official language, of that there is little doubt. That doesn’t mean there can’t be mutual benefit.

  • Sandy McDonald

    • November 21st, 2014 12:11

    Hang on here guys – from what I understand from the article it is going to cost the SIC very little (or nothing), kids are going to learn a bit of a new language – one that is spoken by a quarter of the population of the planet. What exactly is the problem – do I detect a bit of cloaked xenophobia here?

  • Chris Johnston

    • November 21st, 2014 14:29

    The Confucious Classroom project is not without cost. I suggest you educate yourselves about the parent Confucious Institute. From the Wikipedia page:
    “Confucius Institute also has non-academic goals. Li Changchun, the 5th-highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, was quoted in The Economist saying that the Confucius Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” The statement has been seized upon by critics as evidence of a politicized mission. Many foreign scholars have characterized the CI program as an exercise in soft power, expanding China’s economic, cultural, and diplomatic reach through the promotion of Chinese language and culture, while others have suggested a possible role in intelligence collection.The soft power goals also include assuaging concerns of a “China threat” in the context of the country’s increasingly powerful economy and military.
    Enter the relationship with your eyes open.

    • Sandy McDonald

      • November 21st, 2014 16:29

      Ahhh, so not xenophobia – just paranoia. Difficult to split the two sometimes…

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 21st, 2014 16:47

      I’d refer to my comment above. they are doing exactly what the British Council has done and continues to do. That it benefits China does not mean it cannot also benefit Shetland and it’s children.

  • David Spence

    • November 21st, 2014 15:35

    I take your point, Robert. I am looking at it from the perspective of not diversifying the curriculum because the worlds number economic power is China, I am looking at it from the point of time and cost, and whether or not it is justified in the school curriculum to teach such a language in which, looking at the odds here, the pupils are unlikely to ever use as part of their daily lives. I suspect that this would have been taken into consideration by those in education or is this a programme driven by the Government for other reasons apart from political? When Japan was one of the worlds leading economies in the 80’s and 90’s, why was Japanese not taught in schools?

    Yes, I can hear you saying ‘ Whatabout other languages being taught at school? Are they not in the same boat as regards to the odds in using them? Yes, they are……but I would say there is a higher probability they would be used given our geographical location in respect to the original source of the language.

    I have friends who used to live in Germany, and English was the taught language in primary education there. There was also an opportunity pupils could learn another language later in their academic lives, none of which was an Asian language.

    My overall view is evaluating the cost in terms of the education budgets and the usefulness of learning a highly complexed language and the writing of it in proportion to the likelihood of it being used. But as said, I suspect this may have been taken into consideration with those responsible for providing education within the Council or further afield?

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 21st, 2014 16:43

      The question of whether or not two additional languages need be offered is a very different one but not one our Council has much day over. That will soon be a national requirement and therefore the external funding makes this an easy choice. This SAVES the council money, which is surely a huge plus in the current environment.

      The reasons Japanese was not historically offered are plentiful and I don’t think the cars are at all comparable. The attitude towards additional languages was less progressive, funding was less readily available, and I expect tutors themselves were less readily available. Delivering Chinese is much more achievable logistically.

      I think you’re underestimating the importance of Chinese markets to Shetland and Scotland more generally. I already mentioned tourism, but the also spend massive amounts in other areas, most notably food and drink. Shetland salmon already finds it a way there and scotch whisky has been similarly successful. I don’t think it’s potential application in the workplace should be the core criteria for selecting what we teach our children, but I think Chinese languages would score highly on any such criteria.

      As regards Sandy’s comment, I agree there has been underlying racism in some of the comments I have seen regarding this. Poor jokes about restaurant menus, or the above comment comparing learning Chinese to learning “Martian”. I think some of these views are a little “behind the curve” catching up with where China now stands in the world!

  • David Spence

    • November 21st, 2014 16:05

    No Sandy, it is not a xenophobic view point, it is evaluating whether or not it is justified within the curriculum of education, from my perspective?

    As well as this though, one has to also question whether or not, from a business point of view, if this is a programme driven by the Government in terms of trade and global business practices to the benefit of the UK or are there other motives?

    I can see the advantages of the language being used within business (if one can remember what they were taught then) but question, as mentioned previously, the odds of it being a positive and long term contribution within education when other subjects could be taught and have a greater impact on the student.

    I dismiss the attitude ‘ Oh, great, another subject to be taught at school ‘ just for the sake of political correctness and social diversity or ‘It is good the school is providing such an opportunity to expand the students learning skills ‘ when it will, looking at the odds again, serve no real purpose at all?

  • David Spence

    • November 21st, 2014 19:05

    Robert, I am not making light of the Chinese language by making reference to restaurants and maybe the odd retail shop, but where else, if you can tell me (apart from schools) is the Chinese language widely used within western culture?

    It is fine that schools can diversify in academic teachings, but one must question the value of the teaching in proportion to the usefulness of it in every day life, and the means in which to expand on it if the necessity for it is available.

    India is a fast growing economy with a population over 1 billion, should we also incorporate the various languages within India into the curriculum because it may be economically advantageous to do so?

    Where does one draw the line between selecting academic subjects to this of its importance after you have left the academic world, and have flown from the nest, so to speak ?

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 23rd, 2014 11:59

      “Where else, if you can tell me (apart from schools) is the Chinese language widely used within western culture?”

      What an odd question. I’m not even sure what you are getting at really. Why distinguish between “Western culture” and Chinese culture, but not English-speaking culture and any other language? I think you are making an arbitrary and artificial distinction.

      In any case, the opportunity to learn more about non-Western culture has been one of the main benefits I have espoused so far, due to the incredibly distinct aspects of China’s history.

      Your later arguments make little sense either. Learning Chinese would not be an “academic” subject. Nor would learning Indian, or Cantonese, or Japanese, or Vietnamese. But those countries are not funding our government to provide tuition in their language.

      There’s little point in us discussing this further if you are just going to ignore the comments I have made previously. I have made clear that I fundamentally disagree that learning Chinese would not be useful in the “real world”, I have highlighted areas where it could be of vocational value, and I have pointed out its value beyond the working world. If you disagree that is fine, but please do not continually ask me to repeat myself.

  • Alvin Leong

    • November 23rd, 2014 14:15

    Fact, China’s government can afford to fund classes in other countries when the local government cannot even fund the local music classes.

    Fact, China had overtaken USA as the greatest export destination for Scottish whiskey. Johnnie Walker and Chivas export more to China than anywhere else in the world.

    Fact, the demand for high end products in China, including food, has increased greatly in recent years.

    Yes, if you cannot tell from my surname, I am a Chinese, but no, I do not work in or have any dealings with restaurants or shops, never had and never will. However I had to deal with the “Chinese restaurant” jokes and comments for years in Shetland. I usually dismiss them as comments by ignorant persons but when they appear in a local news website like this, I realised that I was wrong.

    I used to bring Shetland salmon for my friends, Chinese or otherwise, when I visit them. They all love it and always asked me where they can buy some. However, after reading the comments on this page, I will stop doing so. I will tell them that Shetland is not interested in any dealing with the Chinese and they are better off spending their money elsewhere. I will also pass on this page to them for them to post on their social media and news websites.

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 23rd, 2014 23:25

      Very well said, Mr Leong. I hope the offensive comments from some regarding this story* will not lead to doing as you suggest, but to be truly honest I would not blame you.

      *(I’d say a minority but I’m sadly not convinced that is true)

      I think for all that we would like to believe otherwise, Shetland does have a problem with racism. It may not appear in the form of violence or even real abuse, but there is a definite “othering” of people from elsewhere and the tired jokes are a result of that. Maybe this initiative will help with that.

  • Alvin Leong

    • November 23rd, 2014 19:48

    It is a free class, not paid for by the SIC. There is no need to close another school down to fund it. If you do not want it, need it or care for it, then don’t take it or allow your children to take it. What is the problem? Why all this Chinese bashing?

  • David Spence

    • November 23rd, 2014 23:29

    Robert, I very much appreciate your contributions towards the subject, and the relevance of them in proportion to the academic and social values they may have.

    I do however, question the validity of it, even if it is being partially funded by the Chinese Government, and the long term benefits to the individual in terms of its usefulness and necessity. Yes, you could argue the same with any taught language, but as mentioned, many of the languages taught in schools have geographical significance, hence, I suspect, why they have been chosen? Even with today’s technology, and better transportation, visiting China, compared to Europe, would still be a more expensive journey.

    I also agree Robert, that learning a language can also direct you towards other aspects of that country in terms of the arts, history, architecture and many other facts about the country which may have a positive impact upon you.

  • David Spence

    • November 24th, 2014 13:31

    Just a little exert from the Sinosplice Website, Robert.

    When I started learning Chinese, I was horrified to hear that it would take me 10 years to become fluent.

    27 years later I’m still working at it. Due to my work on television, some Chinese language learners may consider me a role model of sorts, but every day I’m reminded of what I don’t know and how much more there is to learn.

    “Fluent” is a relative concept. I would summarize:

    2 years to lie on your resume and hope no Chinese speaker interviews you for a job (because 2 years is enough to bullshit your way through a situation in front of non-speakers).
    5 years for basic fluency, but with difficulty.
    10 years to feel comfortable in the language.

    The old saying I heard when I first started learning Chinese was, “Learning Chinese is a five-year lesson in humility”. At the time I assumed that the point of this aphorism was that after five years you will have mastered humility along with Chinese. After I put in my five years, however, I realized the sad truth: I had mastered humility, alright, but my Chinese still had a long way to go. And still does.

    As the the above answers indicate, the notion of “fluent” is very vague and goal-dependent. Needless to say, the Chinese writing system does more than any other aspect to hamper mastery, to the extent that adult speakers must address the daunting problems of the script in order to function in the language. As an instructive metric, however, we can turn to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey for some rough estimates of the relative difficulty. They divide languages into different difficulty groups. Group I includes the “usual” languages a student might study, such as French and Italian.

    They estimate “Hours of instruction required for a student with average language aptitude to reach level-2 proficiency” (never mind what level-2 means) to be 480 hours. A further level is characterized as “Speaking proficiency level expected of a student with superior language aptitude after 720 hours of instruction”, which is “Level 3″, which apparently is their highest level of non-native fluency. Chinese is grouped into Category IV, along with Japanese. The number of hours needed to reach level two is 1320 (about 3 times as much as required for French), and the highest expected level for a superior student after 720 hours is only 1+, i.e. an advanced beginner. These are old statistics, but the proportional differences are bound to be similar today.

    My own experience, in a nutshell: French language students after 4 years are hanging out in Paris bistros, reading everything from Voltaire to Le Monde with relative ease, and having arguments about existentialism and debt ceilings. Chinese language students after four years still can’t read novels or newspapers, can have only simple conversations about food, and cannot yet function in the culture as mature adults. And this even goes for many graduate students with 6-7 or 8 years of Chinese. Exceptions abound, of course, but in general the gap between mastery of Chinese vs. the European languages is enormous. To a great extent the stumbling block is simply the non-phonetic and perversely memory-intensive writing system, but other cultural factors are at work as well.

    • Robert Duncan

      • November 24th, 2014 14:26

      I have not denied it is more difficult to learn than European languages with shared roots, and in fact have been quite clear in stating I do not see that as a reason not to teach it.

      We disagree fundamentally on this so there is little point continuing the discussion.


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