Two pupils deserve credit for even trying Chinese, let alone doing well in it

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Two pupils from Northern Ireland have been identified as the best beginners in speaking Mandarin in the UK.

Eve Flood, from Thornhill College in Londonderry and Patrick Murray from Rathmore Grammar in Dunmurry were winner and runner up in the HSBC British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition.

Eve, who only began to learn the language a year ago, will get a prize of a trip to China.

Learning Mandarin is, by all accounts, so challenging for someone whose first tongue is a European one that it is said to take decades to master. The Chinese alphabet alone is notoriously complex and has thousands of characters.

Perhaps hardest of all to grasp for an English speaker is the sound and pronunciation of Mandarin, some of the sounds of which almost cannot be reproduced beyond a certain age (and likewise for Chinese speakers in reverse, who if they begin to learn English after a certain age are never fully able to hear or reproduce some of the sounds).

Eve and Patrick deserve credit merely for embarking down the path of learning such a daunting language, let alone winning a prize for their efforts.

As little as thirty years ago it was almost impossible to learn Mandarin at school in Northern Ireland.

It is still by no means widespread in the classrooms.

But the significance of the language is certain to grow and grow in the coming decades, when China will pass America to become the richest nation on earth (in absolute terms — America will remain far richer in per capita measurements for a long time yet).

Northern Ireland is building links with China, in part via our universities.

Intelligent school children who make a decision to learn Mandarin and stick with it past school will get reward for their efforts, by at the very least finding one day that they have acquired a very useful international skill.