Six schools in Northern Ireland will soon be immersed in Chinese language and culture thanks to the arrival of three Chinese Language Assistants.
They’re here through the British Council’s Language Assistant programme and join around 60 other language assistants from the likes of Chile, Mexico and Switzerland, to bring language alive in our classrooms.
They will be teaching in both primary and secondary schools including St Joseph’s PS, Crumlin; Rathmore Grammar School and Carr’s Glenn PS in north Belfast.
Notably, this is the first time Mandarin will be taught in Northern Ireland through the scheme.
They were welcomed to Northern Ireland at the British Council offices ahead of the European Day of Languages tomorrow (Friday, September 26).The day, which is organised by the Council of Europe, aims to celebrate that over 6000 languages are spoken around the world, each with their own rich and diverse culture.
At the welcome reception they were joined by some of their school representatives and were briefed on what to expect while in Northern Ireland.
Changxu Chen from the Henan Province in central China, will be teaching at Rathmore Grammar in south Belfast.
About the opportunity, he said: “I’m really looking forward to my time in Rathmore Grammar and in Northern Ireland itself.
“The pupils seem very keen so I’m looking forward to teaching them Mandarin and learning about how our schools systems differ. I also hope to experience the sights of Belfast and Northern Ireland and take in a completely different culture.”
Rathmore Grammar is a school with language at its heart, having been established by the French Holy Order in 1953. It prides itself on the strength and vibrancy of its languages department, currently teaching German, French, Irish and Spanish.
Commenting on the scheme, Mr Paul McGlone, Coordinator of Modern Languages at Rathmore Grammar said, said: “At Rathmore our language department has always been very strong, but we’ve been on the look-out for a more international language and Mandarin seemed to fit perfectly.
“Changzu will initially start with the upper and lower sixth pupils, and then hopefully we can roll this out to all pupils including our year 8s, who will learn more about the cultural side of things.”
The response so far has been overwhelming for the school, with over 65 pupils from the sixth form attending a taster event.
Mr McGlone said: “The students have been really keen and I couldn’t believe the numbers interested. I think for most of them it will be nice to learn a subject for fun instead of having the pressure of taking an exam. It’s also a good way for them to relax and take a break from their A-levels.
“Mandarin will also be great for their CV and make them more employable. Learning a new language is a transferable skill, especially when incorporated into the world of business.
Mr McGlone will also sample Chinese Culture in late October, when he takes part in an International Study Visit to China through the British Council and the Chinese Language Council, Hanban.
About the visit he said: “I’m really looking forward to this professional development opportunity through the British Council – and without them, connecting internationally would be almost impossible. Hopefully this visit can help me build on our connections and create more links with China.”
Speaking ahead of the European Day of Languages, David Alderdice, Director of British Council Northern Ireland said: “Languages are vital for the UK's future in the world. All the global trends mean we need many, many more students to learn - and get out and use - many more foreign languages. If that doesn’t happen, employers are consistently telling us they won't have what they need – and this can only be bad news for the UK’s competitiveness and ability to connect with the world.
“This is especially true with Mandarin. The influence that China has on the world economy is increasing and it is important that we do all we can to prepare our young people for life in a globalised, multicultural society.
“China’s economy currently stands as the second largest in the world and is only growing – young people therefore need to be outward looking, not only to face the challenges of globalisation but to embrace the opportunities that open up new horizons for their future.
“According to recent figures, the UK’s lack of language skills costs us almost £50bn a year, but we hope through schemes such as this one, we can prepare young people here for a more international, connected world.”
The Language Assistants Programme is just one of a number of schemes available through the British Council that internationalise education. For more information visit http://n.ireland.britishcouncil.org or http://www.britishcouncil.org/language-assistants. Funding opportunities for Chinese Language Assistants are available through a subsidy from Hanban, the Chinese Language Council, find out more here: http://www.britishcouncil.org/school-resources/classroom-support/languag...