Three Northern Ireland schools will be bidding to be crowned the UK’s best non-native Mandarin speakers today (Wednesday, February 6, 2019).
Taking to the stage at the grand final of the HSBC/British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition at the British Museum in London, pupils from Foyle College, Thornhill College and Rathmore Grammar School will showcase their Mandarin skills in an attempt to win the trip of a lifetime to China.
This is the second year schools from Northern Ireland will compete, after Lumen Christi College, Loreto Grammar School and Rathmore Grammar School all got through to last year’s final. They will be joined by finalists from 34 state and independent secondary schools from across the UK including from Edinburgh, Manchester and London.
The competition aims to encourage interest in Mandarin Chinese language and China's culture, with Mandarin ranked as one of the most vital languages to the UK over the next twenty years.
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.
Jonathan Stewart, 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 in November were exceptionally high, especially since this is only the second 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.”
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 Patrick Murray from Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast and Eve Flood from Thornhill College, Derry~Londonderry.
Speaking ahead of the competition Eve, a Year 14 pupil, said: “This is my first time competing in any kind of public speaking competition so I am quite proud to be competing at a national level. Preparation for the final involves a lot of work but it has really encouraged me and made me more confident in my Mandarin speaking ability.
“I’m excited to meet the other competitors, and I know that my experience in the final will be a rewarding one because I get to promote and celebrate a language that I love.
“I’ve been learning Mandarin for just over a year, but I hope to continue once I finish school. This competition is an incentive for me to work harder at learning Mandarin and hopefully improve my level of fluency in the language.”
Meanwhile, five pupils from Foyle College will compete in the Group Performance category, performing a piece of drama in Chinese.
Their teacher Hazel Eakin said: “Foyle College is very proud of these young people and their achievement to date, particularly as three out of the five speakers are only beginners. The pupils put a great deal of hard work into the competition in Belfast and with continued effort, they will hopefully do themselves and their school proud on Wednesday.
“Of all the things you can do with your spare time, learning Mandarin is one of the best investments you can make. Chinese has no tenses, no cases, no genders and simple grammar - Chinese is one of the easiest languages there is to learn.”
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 Pig Education Pack’ to help children across the UK celebrate Chinese New Year and learn more about China and its culture.
The British Council is the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation. For more information on current opportunities in Northern Ireland, visit nireland.britishcouncil.org, or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI