Three Northern Ireland schools will be bidding to be crowned the UK’s best non-native Mandarin speakers today (Wednesday, February 7).
Taking to the stage at the grand final of the HSBC/British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition at the British Museum in London, pupils from Lumen Christi College, Loreto Grammar School and Rathmore Grammar School will showcase their Mandarin skills in an attempt to win the trip of a lifetime to China.
The national speaking competition is now in its fifteenth year, but this will be the first time Northern Ireland schools will compete, after the British Council and the Confucius Institute at Ulster University held a heat in Belfast back last November. They will be joined by finalists from 42 state and independent secondary schools from across the UK including Edinburgh, Manchester and London.
As the most spoken language in the world, Mandarin Chinese is vital for the UK’s place in the world. In fact, recent British Council research has highlighted that Mandarin is the non-European language the UK will need most once the country leaves the European Union.
And while drives such as the Department for Education’s Mandarin Excellence Programme are successfully encouraging Mandarin uptake in schools, numbers are still low when compared to other more traditional languages. Last year, just over 4,000 students took a GCSE in Mandarin Chinese compared to around 130,000 students who took French and over 90,000 students who took Spanish.
Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director, British Council Northern Ireland, said: “Mandarin Chinese is one of the languages that matter most to the UK’s future prosperity. With more than one billion Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world, it is vital that more of our young people learn this valuable language in order to live in an increasingly connected society and compete in a global economy.”
“The standards during the Belfast heat were exceptionally high, especially since this is the first year the competition has been open to Northern Ireland pupils. We are delighted to see so many reach the final and we wish the schools every success today.”
Ahead of the competition, the pupils were congratulated by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Sonia Copeland, who said:
“Belfast has strong links with China, through our Sister Cities initiative, and therefore it is great to see schools from Northern Ireland taking part in this prestigious competition, and also doing so well at the first attempt. There is no doubt that the ability to speak languages is a supremely important asset for our young people, as our city looks outward for our future growth and prosperity.”
Alison Coates, Global Head of Future Skills, HSBC added: “This competition gives young people from around the UK a great opportunity to develop and improve their language skills – helping them to become more employable, global citizens. We are delighted to support the competition and help build the future skills of a generation.”
Pupils will compete in either the Individual Language Ability or Group Performance section. In the Individual section, contestants give a short presentation in Mandarin, translate sentences from English into Mandarin and are tested on their knowledge of China and Chinese culture. In the beginners’ category, Northern Ireland will be represented by Caoilfhinn Farrell from Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast and Amber McDaid from Lumen Christi College, Derry~Londonderry, while Chelsea McElroy from Loreto Grammar School, Omagh will compete in the Intermediate section.
Pupils from Lumen Christi College will also compete in the Group Performance category, where teams of between four and six students perform a piece of drama in Chinese – involving imaginative performances and costumes. The judging panel will be made up of native and non-native speakers of Mandarin, from a variety of backgrounds.
The British Council and HSBC have joined forces to run the competition since 2003. The British Council has also just launched the ‘Year of the Dog Primary Education Pack’ to help children across the UK celebrate Chinese New Year and learn more about China and its culture.